Cataracts: could a new approach to surgery improve children’s vision? | Children's Charity

Cataracts: could a new approach to surgery improve children’s vision?

This research was completed on 30 September 2017

Published on 25 February 2014

Around 200 babies are born with cataracts each year in the UK.1 They can develop blurred or misty vision, or even go blind. Indeed estimates suggest up to 210,000 children worldwide have lost their sight to cataracts.2-4 Surgery can restore children’s vision if done soon enough, but its effects aren’t perfect. Professor Colin McCaig, of the University of Aberdeen, is investigating whether a revolutionary new approach to surgery might give children better eyesight than is currently possible – a benefit that would have far-reaching implications for children and their families.

How are children’s lives affected now?

Globally, nearly 18 million people are blind because of cataracts – the world’s single most important cause of blindness.3 Most are older, but babies and children get cataracts too.

Cataracts grow in the eye’s lens, which focuses light to create the images we see. Lenses are normally clear, but cataracts make them hazy.

“Surgery for cataracts is – without doubt – beneficial,” says Professor McCaig. “However, children’s vision often remains less than perfect even if surgery is successful.”

During surgery, cataracts are removed and the eye’s lens is replaced by inserting an artificial one into the eye, or by wearing contact lenses or glasses.

“Unfortunately, artificial lenses cannot focus as well as natural ones, meaning children can still face a life of restricted vision even if they undergo surgery,” says Professor McCaig. “What’s more, children are particularly susceptible to a complication after surgery called posterior capsular opacification or PCO. This is like a secondary cataract. It further impairs children’s vision, requiring yet more interventions.”

How could this research help?

“We are studying a possible new approach to cataract surgery that we believe could revolutionise treatment and transform children’s lives for the better,” says Professor McCaig.

The team’s laboratory investigations will reveal whether their new approach has the potential to offer two important benefits: whether it might help to prevent children from getting secondary cataracts and whether it might encourage the eye’s lens to grow back naturally after surgery – something that was long thought impossible.

“If complete regeneration of the eye’s lens could be achieved, this would be of major benefit to children,” says Professor McCaig. “It’s too early to be sure as our work is still in the laboratory stages, but we think the eye would be able to adjust its focus well – much better than with artificial lenses – greatly improving children’s eyesight and profoundly affecting quality of life. Many older people with cataracts could eventually benefit too.”

Project LeaderProfessor Colin D McCaig BSc PhD
Project team
  • Professor J Martin Collinson MA PhD
  • Professor John V Forrester FRSE FMedSci
  • Professor Noemi Lois MD, PhD, FRCS(Ed), FRCOphth
LocationSchool of Medical Sciences, Institute of Medical Sciences, University of Aberdeen
Other locations
  • Ophthalmology, Institute of Medical Sciences, University of Aberdeen
  • Clinical Ophthalmology, Centre of Vision and Vascular Science, Queens University, Belfast
Duration3 years
Grant awarded15 November 2013
Start date1 April 2014
End date30 September 2017
Grant amount£191,577.00
Grant codeGN2199

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1. RNIB. Congenital cataracts. Website accessed 15 January 2014.

2. Wilson E et al. Childhood blindness and pediatric cataract. Cataract and Refractive Surgery Today, October 2005, p52-4. Website accessed 15 January 2014.

3. World Health Organization 2007. Vision 2020. The right to sight. Global initiative for the elimination of preventable blindness. Action plan 2006-2011. Website accessed 15 January 2014.

4. World Health Organization. Preventing blindness in children. Report of a WHO/IABP scientific meeting. 2000. Website accessed 28 January 2014.


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