A team of scientists led by Molly Shoichet and funded by Medicine by Design is working on a ground-breaking research project to restore vision using retinal stem cells.
The interdisciplinary team aims to address conditions like the dry subtype of age-related macular degeneration (dry AMD) and a family of rare genetic diseases called retinitis pigmentosa (RP), which can both lead to vision loss and blindness.
Their approach involves transplanting photoreceptor cells derived from stem cells into the eyes to restore vision.
It’s a multi-tiered process that involves growing human retinal organoids as a source of photoreceptor cells for transplantation, perfecting the means of delivering them, making the retina receptive to them, figuring out how to manipulate genes that may be causing eye disease, and then developing a tool that can measure the success of the transplant.
“This is extraordinarily difficult research, but we’ve seen some progress in restoring some vision in mice,” says Shoichet, a University Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry and the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at U of T. “Now, by bringing together an integrated team of experts, we think we can take the next big step.”
The team’s method involves a process called material transfer, which was discovered by co-PI, Valerie Wallace, where healthy photoreceptor cells (cell therapy) are transplanted into the retina at the back of the eye and used to transfer genetic material.
Shoichet is also leading a Pivotal Experiment Fund project where the team designed a new hydrogel that delivers therapeutic proteins directly to the retina after injection into the vitreous. Here the goal is to delay photoreceptor cell death, thereby preserving vision.
Shoichet’s U of T lab is located at the Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research.