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At the frontier of medicine: micro-lenses bring new cataract treatments in sight

13 December 2019
Meet Australian researchers who use stem cells to advance our understanding of how the body develops and what happens during disease.

Associate Professor Michael O’Connor heads the Regenerative Medicine lab at Western Sydney University, and is interested in using human stem cells to better understand normal human development and disease progression. Michael is particularly interested in finding ways to treat cataracts. 

A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye which leads to a decrease in vision. Cataracts are often associated with older adults, but they can also form in children, which leads to lifelong consequences. 

Michael is using stem cells to understand how human eye lenses grow, how cataracts form and the genetic and environmental factors that can lead to the disease. 

Michael and his team use novel stem cell technology to create hundreds of thousands of micro lenses in a dish, that are similar to the lenses of the human eye. 

These lenses can be used to identify drugs that prevent or limit cataract formation. Michael also hopes that in the future, it may be possible to transplant lens cells into patients to restore lens transparency and therefore vision. 

Read more about their research in Tomorrow’s medicine starts today.

Dr Rachel Shparberg, a Research Fellow in the lab is looking to grow lens from human stem cells. Once a human sized lens can be reliably grown in a dish, the team can begin clinical trials. 

To help advance the research, Michael collaborates with cataract surgeons as well as drug companies. Michael also works with Cataracts Kids Australia to support families with children with cataracts disease and to raise funds for research.

Listen to Michael and Rachel share an insight into their research, their passion for studying human development and their advice about choosing your career. 


Australian stem cell researchers are making important discoveries in the lab, that will move research outcomes towards clinical applications. Watch their videos.