Incurable eye disorders like glaucoma and macular degeneration are the world’s leading causes of vision loss. In the United States alone, approximately 11 million people suffer from some form of macular degeneration and another 3 million are living with glaucoma. Vision loss costs national economies billions of dollars every year in direct health care expenses and lost productivity.
Researchers at the Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine (ISCRM) are using stem cell-derived retinal organoids to study how diseases of the retina form and how they can be treated. Organoids closely approximate human tissue without many of the ethical questions and supply limitations that complicate the use of fetal tissue. Read more about recent efforts to validate stem cell-derived organoids as disease models here.
ISCRM faculty member Tom Reh, PhD studies retinal development and regeneration in mice and humans. Reh and his team are working to create new methods for regenerating and reconstructing the damaged retina, using stem cell and reprogramming approaches. ISCRM faculty member Jennifer Chao, MD, PhD and her lab are pursuing potential treatments for inherited retinal degenerations, including Sorsby Fundus Dystrophy, Age-Related Macular Degeneration, and Usher Syndrome. Meet one family Chao is working to help through her research in this short video.
In an approach could someday be used to help repair the retinas in patients who have lost vision due to macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetes, the Reh Lab has successfully induced non-neuronal cells to become retinal neurons. In an October 2021 study published in the journal Cell Reports, Reh and his team using proteins (known as transcription factors) that regulate the activity of genes to induce glial cells in the retina to produce neurons. The effort demonstrates that gene therapy could someday be used in clinics to help repair damaged retinas and restore vision.