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Restoration of visual function: a cellular reprogramming and bioengineering approach

Principal Investigator:
  • Valerie Wallace, UHN Western Hospital, Univeristy of Toronto
Team Members:
  • David Andrews, Sunnybrook Research Institute
  • Jeff Biernaskie, University of Calgary
  • Yves Sauve, University of Calgary
  • Carol Schuurmans, University of Calgary
  • Mark Ungrin, University of Calgary
  • The W. Garfield Weston Foundation

Project Overview

The retina is the part of the eye that is responsible for processing visual information. Loss of neurons (nerve cells) in the central nervous system, which includes the brain and retina, is a particularly serious problem because, with few exceptions, these neurons do not regrow after they are lost in the adult. Loss of photoreceptors, the neurons in the retina that sense light, leads to irreversible vision loss. The goal of this project is to develop new therapies to treat the millions of people worldwide who are afflicted by retinal photoreceptor degeneration. To meet this challenge, a unique, multi-disciplinary team of investigators has been assembled with expertise in stem cells, brain development, bioengineering, vision science and molecular biology. By pooling their combined expertise, they have devised a pre-clinical research plan to develop treatments for retinal degenerative disease. Specifically, they will develop strategies to: 1) convert a patient’s own skin cells into functional photoreceptors that can be used for therapeutic purposes; 2) test the ability of skin-derived photoreceptors to restore sight in animals; and 3) use novel bioengineering approaches to optimize integration of these new photoreceptors into the diseased retina. They hope be eventually initiate clinical trials involving cone photoreceptor transplantation into the human retina.