by Thomas Vihtelic, DVM, PhD
Director of Experimental Therapeutics, MPI Research
Advancing stem cell research is a rewarding part of our work at MPI Research. We also follow related scientific achievements, as these can enhance our own understanding and expertise. For example, two recent studies involving stem cells and retinal disease are providing valuable insights. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in older people in developed countries. Yet AMD isn’t fully understood because of its complexity and the lack of fully translatable research models.
Recently, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) were used to create a human model of the condition. In a study led by Stephen Tsang, MD, PhD, at Columbia University, skin cells from persons with high genetic risk factors for AMD were used to create iPSC. The iPSC were differentiated to retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells, which are the primary diseased cells in cases of AMD. For comparison, the same process was used on skin cells from healthy subjects. The newly formed RPE cells were then subjected in culture to a protocol that simulates aging. This study revealed that RPE cells from the high-risk patients had much lower anti-oxidant activity compared to the low-risk group, which suggests anti-oxidant treatments such as the AREDS regimen, may be important to fighting AMD in patients with those genetic risk factors.
In addition, a clinical trial was begun to determine if an iPSC-derived treatment can be used for a particular form of AMD. The study began in August at the Japanese research institute RIKEN through its Laboratory for Retinal Regeneration to address the wet form of AMD, which occurs when abnormal blood vessels leak fluid into the retina. The approach involved transplanting RPE cells created from iPSC derived from each patient. The patient-specific RPE cells are inserted in monolayer cell sheets formed through a novel technology, replacing damaged RPE in the eye. If successful, this could provide an alternative to existing drug therapies that inhibit the fluid leakage but can’t repair damaged tissue.
Given that stem cell-derived products have demonstrated some success in treating vision loss in humans and in rodent models, scientists are tapping a research area with great potential. Likewise, our stem cell team at MPI Research is proud to be part of cutting-edge work that holds promise for patients around the world.
Thomas Vihtelic, DVM, PhD, is Director of Experimental Therapeutics and Senior Study Director at MPI Research. For more information on our expertise in stem cell research and therapies, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.