If this looks familiar, you may have cataracts. 2 new sci-fi fixes could help.

If you saw these pictures in a gallery, you might think the glass was smudged.

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. Original image by David Hiser/Wikimedia Commons.


The right sides of these pictures are all blurry and kind of grey.

"Napoleon Crossing the Alps" by Jacque-Louis David. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

You'd obviously want to get someone to clean it up!

But what if the smudge was inside your eye?

Inside your eyes are natural lenses, like the lens of a camera. The lens focuses light onto the back of our eyes, where specialized cells interpret the image and send that information to the brain. Because all the light we see has to go through the lens, our bodies naturally make it transparent.

Sometimes, however, proteins in the lens start to clump together, forming a small cloudy area that destroys that carefully constructed lens transparency, like replacing a camera lens with a piece of frosted glass. This cloud is what's known as a cataract, and over time, it can spread to cover the entire lens in the eye.

Congenital cataracts. Image from National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health/Flickr.

When this happens, cataracts cause our vision to become blurry and washed out. They can also make light glare really bad and give some people double vision.

More than 22 million Americans over 40 already have cataracts. By the time we turn 80, most of us will have them in some form.

Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in the world and mostly happen to people as we age. They can also be found in children and younger adults due to congenital conditions, injury, or illness. About one in every 250 kids is born with or develops cataracts at young age.

Treatments for cataracts do exist. The current solution generally either involves stronger glasses or, if the vision loss is bad enough, surgery to replace an old, cloudy lens with a transparent plastic one.

A young person in Bali recovers from cataract surgery. Image from Agung Parameswara/Getty Images.

But cataract surgery does sometimes come with complications, and some types of the plastic replacement lenses sacrifice the flexibility of our biological lenses — they have trouble focusing on nearby stuff, for instance, and don't work super well in children.

Cataract surgery might be about to get a neat sci-fi upgrade thanks to new research involving stem cells.

Stem cells are a special kind of cells found in our bodies that can transform themselves into different types of cells (like eye cells or brain cells or kidney cells).

They've been a hot area of research, from anti-aging ideas to straight-up regenerating limbs.

Stem cells magnified on a computer screen. Image by Spencer Platt/Staff/Getty.

Two groups of researchers recently published studies investigating if stem cells could help re-grow biological lenses.

One group of researchers in Japan and the U.K. recently used human stem cells to grow cells from many different parts of the eye.

The scientists took human stem cells and coaxed them into transforming into eye tissue. They found that they could successfully make the cells divide into different layers as they grew.

Image from NPG Press/YouTube.

What's cool is that each layer corresponded with a different part of the eye. Cells from the first layer, for example, could potentially become part of the nerve-rich tissue at the back of the eye while cells from between the second and third layers could become the lens, and cells from layers 3 and 4 could become parts of the cornea.

The researchers were even able to successfully transplant the new stem-cell-grown corneas into rabbits. This technique could one day help doctors replace many different parts of people's eyes as they become damaged, although a lot of work needs to be done before we see any tests in humans.

Another research group, meanwhile, experimented with a surgical technique designed to help children regrow new lenses.

The technique is deceptively elegant because it doesn't require any new technology, just a twist on existing techniques.

“This is just a change in a surgical procedure,” said James Funderburgh, a cell biologist at the University of Pittsburgh in a Nature press release. “They are not putting in an artificial lens: they are just letting the lens regrow.”

In this new technique, the surgeons use a smaller-than-normal incision to remove the patient's cloudy lens but don't implant a plastic one afterwards. That's because after the lens is removed, some stem cells are naturally left behind in the patient's eye, and it turns out that, by leaving them alone, the body can use those stem cells to grow a brand new lens.

This technique is slower than traditional methods because the child's eye needs about three months to grow a new lens. But the benefit is that the lens won't grow cloudy over time, like some artificial ones do, and the surgery has a much lower rate of complications.

Sunglasses help protect these kids' eyes a few days after cataract surgery. Image from Chris Jackson/Getty Images.

In fact, this technique was so successful, they've even used it on 12 human babies. It's been two years since some of them had the procedure done, and so far, the results seem promising. While this particular technique may not be as useful for older adults (whose cells grow more slowly), it could restore sight to a lot of young people.

“Even if it’s only for kids, it’s fantastic,” said Funderburgh.

Cataracts are one of the most common vision problems in the world, but these cool new tools could help those living with them see the world a whole lot more clearly.

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan
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Growing up in Indonesia, Farwiza Farhan always loved the ocean. It's why she decided to study marine biology. But the more she learned, the more she realized that it wasn't enough to work in the ocean. She needed to protect it.

"I see the ocean ecosystem collapsing due to overfishing and climate change," she says. "I felt powerless and didn't know what to do [so] I decided to pursue my master's in environmental management."

This choice led her to work in environmental protection, and it was fate that brought her back home to the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia — one of the last places on earth where species such as tigers, orangutans, elephants and Sumatran rhinoceros still live in the wild today. It's also home to over 300 species of birds, eight of which are endemic to the region.

"When I first flew over the Leuser Ecosystem, I saw an intact landscape, a contiguous block of lush, diverse vegetation stretched through hills and valleys. The Leuser is truly a majestic landscape — one of a kind."

She fell in love. "I had my first orangutan encounter in the Leuser Ecosystem," she remembers. "As the baby orangutan swung from the branches, seemingly playing and having fun, the mother was observing us. I was moved by the experience."

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

"Over the years," she continues, "the encounters with wildlife, with people, and with the ecosystem itself compounded. My curiosity and interest towards nature have turned into a deep desire to protect this biodiversity."

So, she began working for a government agency tasked to protect it. After the agency dismantled for political reasons in the country, Farhan decided to create the HAkA Foundation.

"The goals [of HAkA] are to protect, conserve and restore the Leuser Ecosystem while at the same time catalyzing and enabling just economic prosperity for the region," she says.

"Wild areas and wild places are rare these days," she continues. "We think gold and diamonds are rare and therefore valuable assets, but wild places and forests, like the Leuser Ecosystems, are the kind of natural assets that essentially provide us with life-sustaining services."

"The rivers that flow through the forest of the Leuser Ecosystem are not too dissimilar to the blood that flows through our veins. It might sound extreme, but tell me — can anyone live without water?"

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

So far, HAkA has done a lot of work to protect the region. The organization played a key role in strengthening laws that bring the palm oil companies that burn forests to justice. In fact, their involvement led to an unprecedented, first-of-its-kind court decision that fined one company close to $26 million.

In addition, HAkA helped thwart destructive infrastructure plans that would have damaged critical habitat for the Sumatran elephants and rhinos. They're working to prevent mining destruction by helping communities develop alternative livelihoods that don't damage the forests. They've also trained hundreds of police and government rangers to monitor deforestation, helping to establish the first women ranger teams in the region.

"We have supported multiple villages to create local regulation on river and land protection, effectively empowering communities to regain ownership over their environment."

She is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year. The donation she receives as a nominee is being awarded to the Ecosystem Impact Foundation. The small local foundation is working to protect some of the last remaining habitats of the critically endangered leatherback turtle that lives on the west coast of Sumatra.

"The funds will help the organization keep their ranger employed so they can continue protecting the islands, endangered birds and sea turtle habitats," she says.

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen. Do you know an inspiring woman like Farwiza? Nominate her today!

Jennifer Lawrence

After being a Hollywood staple, Jennifer Lawrence vanished from the public eye following the release of "X-Men Dark Phoenix" in 2019.

Sure, the pandemic had something to do with that … in addition to the usual way our society treats Hollywood "it" girls, once it grows accustomed to the flavor. But in a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Lawrence opens up about some other reasons she chose to step away for a time.

Lawrence went from being a highly sought-after Oscar-winning actress to starring in less-than-successful films like "Passengers," "Mother!" and "Red Sparrow." The films were not only poorly received among critics, but commercially as well.

"I was not pumping out the quality that I should have," she told VF. "I just think everybody had gotten sick of me. I'd gotten sick of me. It had just gotten to a point where I couldn't do anything right. If I walked a red carpet, it was, 'Why didn't she run?'"

So then, why do it? As any workaholic would know, it's about so much more than money.

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Courtesy of Ms. Lopez
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Marcella Lopez didn't always want to be a teacher — but once she became one, she found her passion. That's why she's stayed in the profession for 23 years, spending the past 16 at her current school in Los Angeles, where she mostly teaches children of color.

"I wanted purpose, to give back, to live a life of public service, to light the spark in others to think critically and to be kind human beings," she says. "More importantly, I wanted my students to see themselves when they saw me, to believe they could do it too."

Ms. Lopez didn't encounter a teacher of color until college. "That moment was life-changing for me," she recalls. "It was the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin as a student. Always remembering how I felt in that college class many years ago has kept me grounded year after year."

It's also guided her teaching. Ms. Lopez says she always selects authors and characters that represent her students and celebrate other ethnicities so students can relate to what they read while also learning about other cultures.

"I want them to see themselves in the books they read, respect those that may not look like them and realize they may have lots in common with [other cultures] they read about," she says.

She also wants her students to have a different experience in school than she did.

When Ms. Lopez was in first grade, she "was speaking in Spanish to a new student, showing her where the restroom was when a staff member overheard our conversation and directed me to not speak in Spanish," she recalls. "In 'this school,' we only speak English," she remembers them saying. "From that day forward, I was made to feel less-than and embarrassed to speak the language of my family, my ancestors; the language I learned to speak first."

Part of her job, she says, is to find new ways to promote acceptance and inclusion in her classroom.

"The worldwide movement around social justice following the death of George Floyd amplified my duty as a teacher to learn how to discuss racial equity in a way that made sense to my little learners," she says. "It ignited me to help them see themselves in a positive light, to make our classroom family feel more inclusive, and make our classroom a safe place to have authentic conversations."

One way she did that was by raising money through DonorsChoose to purchase books and other materials for her classroom that feature diverse perspectives.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

The Allstate Foundation recently partnered with DonorsChoose to create a Racial Justice and Representation category to encourage teachers like Ms. Lopez to create projects that address racial equity in the classroom. To launch the category, The Allstate Foundation matched all donations to these projects for a total of $1.5 million. Together, they hope to drive awareness and funding to projects that bring diversity, inclusion, and identity-affirming learning materials into classrooms across the country. You can see current projects seeking funding here.

When Ms. Lopez wanted to incorporate inclusive coloring books into her lesson plans, The Allstate Foundation fully funded her project so she was able to purchase them.

"I'm a lifelong learner, striving to be my best version of myself and always working to inspire my little learners to do the same," she says. Each week, Ms. Lopez and the students would focus on a page in the book and discuss its message. And she plans to do the same again this school year.

"DonorsChoose has been a gamechanger for my students. Without the support of all the donors that come together on this platform, we wouldn't have a sliver of what I've been able to provide for my students, especially during the pandemic," she says.

"My passion is to continue striving to be excellent, and to continue to find ways to use literature as an anchor, depicting images that reflect my students," she says.

To help teachers like Ms. Lopez drive this important mission forward, donate on DonorsChoose.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

This story was originally published on The Mighty and originally appeared here on 07.21.17


Most people imagine depression equals “really sad," and unless you've experienced depression yourself, you might not know it goes so much deeper than that. Depression expresses itself in many different ways, some more obvious than others. While some people have a hard time getting out of bed, others might get to work just fine — it's different for everyone.

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Photo by Vanessa Garcia from Pexels

A professor's message to students has gone viral.

If you know any teachers, you probably know how utterly exhausted they all are, from preschools all the way up through college. Pandemic schooling has been rough, to say the least, and teachers have borne the brunt of the impact it's had on students.

Most teachers I've known have bent over backwards to help students succeed during this time, taking kids' mental and emotional health into consideration and extending the flexibility and grace we all could use. But teachers have their own mental and emotional needs, too, and at some point, something's gotta give.

A college student posted screenshots of a professor's message on Twitter with the comment "someone PLEASE check on my professor." It's simply incredible.

The message reads:

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