Department of Surgery
Department of Biomedical Sciences
Focused on molecular genetic and stem cell research, the Eye Program aims to revolutionize our approach to treating major blinding eye diseases. Work at the Regenerative Medicine Institute (RMI) harnesses the limitless potential of regenerative medicine to improve the lives of patients by developing novel stem cell-based treatments for macular degeneration, keratoconus, diabetic eye disease, corneal scarring, and herpetic eye disease.
Twenty-four million Americans suffer from diabetes, and over half of them suffer damage to their vision. Keratoconus is one of the most common causes of corneal transplants affecting young individuals in the most productive part of their lives. Corneal scarring and herpetic eye disease affect millions of individuals across the globe. Macular degeneration affects 30 percent of Americans over age 70 and is the most common cause of blindness among the elderly.
Corneal transplants are costly and hard to come by (corneas are in short supply), and the procedure is not always successful. Devising appropriate stem cell therapies for a range of eye diseases depends upon developing the right cells for each disorder and each therapeutic application. Modeling eye diseases in animals has been difficult.
We are developing ways to restore normal functions of corneal stem cells in diabetes using our unique gene therapy approach. Our team has also identified several unique genes that may play a role in the development of keratoconus and that may provide clues to medical therapy. We were the first group to look at and characterize all the important components of herpes simplex virus 1, the main cause of herpes-associated eye disease. We have pioneered cell-based therapy for macular degeneration and associated vascular pathology in animal models. Our studies have lead to two clinical trials.
ON THE HORIZON
The RMI Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell (iPSC) Core Facility is currently developing a line of induced pluripotent stem cells from patient corneas that will potentially allow us to treat patients who suffer from corneal scarring and keratoconus. We are investigating combined cellular therapies for degenerative retinal diseases such as macular degeneration and associated vascular pathology in animal models. We plan to work with clinicians to make pluripotent stem cells from patients with diseases of the eye, and then produce eye cells in the dish to study how diseases that cause blindness occur.