Friday, February 23 , 2018, 8:40 am | Fair 48º

 
 
 
 

UCSB Shares $20 Million Grant for Vision Research Using Stem Cells

The research will focus on macular degeneration, the major cause of visual impairment in the elderly

UCSB will receive $2.5 million of a $20 million, multi-institution grant for vision research.

The research will focus on macular degeneration, the major cause of visual impairment in the elderly. The grant, from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the UK Medical Research Council, will cover preclinical tests utilizing human embryonic stem cells, as part of an effort to get federal approval for clinical trials. CIRM will provide $15.9 million for work in California, and the MRC will add $4.1 million to fund collaborative work in London.

“UCSB scientists in the Center for Stem Cell Biology and Engineering and the Center for the Study of Macular Degeneration are excited to provide the basic research that will allow translation of stem cell research to the clinic,” said Dennis Clegg, a professor in UCSB’s Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and co-director of the Stem Cell Center, and a co-principal investigator on the grant.

Lincoln Johnson, director of the Center for the Study of Macular Degeneration, is also an investigator on the team. The Center for Stem Cell Biology and Engineering and the Center for the Study of Macular Degeneration are both part of UCSB’s Neuroscience Research Institute.

According to the scientists who will work on the project, it is estimated that by 2020, more than 450,000 Californians will suffer from vision loss or blindness because of age-related macular degeneration — the most common cause of retinal degeneration diseases in the elderly. The scientists said MD is a progressive disease of part of the retina, called the macula. The disease begins with distortion of central vision, and eventually leads to legal blindness.

A layer of cells at the back of the eye called the retinal pigment epithelium provides support, protection and nutrition to the light sensitive cells of the retina — the photoreceptors, which consist of rods and cones. The dysfunction of these RPE cells plays a critical role in the loss of the photoreceptors and hence the blindness of age-related macular degeneration.

Recent advances in knowledge and technology of human embryonic stem cells bring new hope for the development of cell replacement treatment, according to the scientists. These cells are capable of unlimited self-replication, and can be directed to make RPE cells.

The scientists said the research group is made up of multidisciplinary members, who collectively have more than two decades of experience in efforts to restore sight to the blind, as well as retinal cell transplantation and stem cell research. They plan to use their expertise and infrastructure to show to the Food and Drug Administration the success of preclinical tests using RPE derived from human embryonic stem cells to help restore vision. They believe the success will help efforts to get FDA approval to conduct clinical trials in patients who are at risk of vision loss due to age-related macular degeneration.

In their grant proposal, the scientists note that hundreds of thousands of Californians with age-related macular degeneration will be helped by this research. Additionally, the California economy will benefit from the work through potential reduced costs for health care and social welfare. They also envision that the research will lead to a new industry and many employment opportunities, as well as add to the revenue generated by the state of California. Research efforts will also lead to new university curricula in stem cells and regenerative medicine in California, and thus educate the workforce of the future.

The principal investigator on the grant is Mark Humayun of the Doheny Eye Institute of USC.

 
  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.



Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >