- Brain Awareness Week
Use of a stem cell based tissue-engineering approach to reconstruct the outer neural retina
Retinal degenerative diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) are currently the leading cause of incurable blindness in the western world. These diseases are characterized by death of the light sensing photoreceptor cells of the outer neural retina. As the intrinsic regenerative capacity of the mammalian retina is extremely limited, the only viable treatment option for people suffering from photoreceptor cell loss is cellular replacement. Although a range of data suggests that the use of stem cells to achieve such a goal is now feasible, two major hurdles blocking establishment of a viable cell based clinical therapy exist. These are 1: generation of a suitable cell type, and 2: development of an optimal cell delivery/transplantation system. For instance, much of the focus in the stem cell field has been placed on the use of cell types that, although potentially effective, for one reason or another are not entirely suitable for clinical application (i.e. immune compatibility, inability to obtain sufficient cell numbers and ethical concerns relating to cell source). Similarly, current delivery methods typically result in massive cell loss and limited cellular integration. Thus, regardless of the cell type chosen, this prevents progression toward clinical trial and successful development of a restorative cell-based therapy. To circumvent these issues, my lab is focused on combining state-of-the-art patient-specific stem cell and biodegradable tissue engineering technologies to develop outer retinal equivalents, de novo, to be used as a means of retinal regeneration following transplantation.