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Stimulating Endogenous Regeneration of Photoreceptors as a Potential Cure for Blindness

Principal Investigator:
  • Rod Bremner, LTRI Sinai Health System, University of Toronto
Team Members:
  • Donald Weaver, Toronto Western Research Institute, University of Toronto
  • Michel Cayouette, Institut de Recherches Cliniques de Montréal, Université de Montréal
  • Gautam Awatramani, University of Victoria
  • Philippe Monnier, Toronto Western Research Institute, University of Toronto
  • Krembil Foundation

Project Overview

Sight is the most precious sense, and patients suffering vision loss endure a devastating experience. Blindness often results from the gradual death of photoreceptors, the retinal cells that perceive light. Many researchers are attempting to replace lost cells through transplantation of stem cell-derived photoreceptors. However, integration of injected photoreceptors into the retina is extremely inefficient and the cost to derive photoreceptors from each patient would be considerable. There is therefore a pressing need to explore alternatives, but few groups around the world are tackling this problem. This team’s proposal positions them at the forefront of this effort. Rather than injecting cells into the eye, they will harness the regenerative potential of cells already present in the retina. In fish, these cells regenerate the entire retina after damage, but this capacity is hindered in mammals. The team is devising ways to reengage this ancient regenerative power to achieve retinal repair. The regenerative process in fish involves cell division followed by a change into a more primitive state, and maturation into new photoreceptors. Drs. Rod Bremner (Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum, Toronto) and Michel Cayouette (IRCM, Montreal) will activate division in the critical cell type and maximize production of new photoreceptors, Drs. Philippe Monnier and Don Weaver (TWRI, Toronto) will devise pharmaceutical strategies to promote survival and connectivity of newly generated photoreceptors, and Dr. Gautam Awatramani (U. Victoria, BC) will use state-of-the-art technology to optimize cell function. While this proposal focusses on restoring sight, the results already indicate that this approach will have broad relevance to CNS disease and injury.