Developing Clinical Applications
The California Project to Cure Blindness is an interdisciplinary research effort involving researchers at UCSB in the Center for the Study of Macular Degeneration and the Center for Stem Cell Biology and Engineering, along with retinal surgeons in the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California (Mark Humayun, principal investigator), materials chemists at Caltech, and experts in cellular therapy from the city of Hope and University College London. The goal is to differentiate a monolayer of RPE on a synthetic substrate that can be implanted in the macula to replace damaged RPE and therefore preserve photoreceptors.
The eye is an excellent candidate for developing such a therapy. It is accessible via well-developed surgical methods, and excellent methods can be utilized for noninvasive imaging and assessment of endpoint parameters to measure visual acuity. Furthermore, relatively few cells are necessary to cover the macular region.
To successfully move stem cell research from the laboratory to the clinic will require standardized production of a reliable RPE graft with proven efficacy in animal models. Despite the many challenges associated with developing such a novel therapy, the interdisciplinary team, with funding from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, has a goal of filing an investigational new drug application with the FDA within four years. The hope is to perfect this new technology to alleviate suffering for the millions of people affected by dry AMD.
To learn more about the work of The California Project to Cure Blindness to prevent vision loss and improve the quality of life for those suffering from age-related macular degeneration, visit www.thecaliforniaproject.org.