David Gamm to Use Stem Cells to Create Rod Photoreceptors
Madison, Wisconsin - Stem cell researcher Dr. David Gamm is one of five leading vision scientists to receive a $100,000 grant from Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) to accelerate treatments for people with Retinitis Pigmentosa.
Gamm, director of the McPherson Eye Research Institute at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, has developed technology to grow photoreceptor cells that may be able to replace cells lost to disease.
Gamm’s method involves using human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC), which his lab creates from a patient’s own skin or blood cells, and growing them into different types of photoreceptors, including rod cells, which are often targeted by genetic eye diseases.
The RPB Nelson Trust Award is providing a total of $500,000 to five leading U.S. vision researchers. Others include:
- Vadim Arshavsky, Duke University
- Wolfgang Baehr, University of Utah
- Eric A. Pierce, Harvard University
- Donald J. Zack, The Johns Hopkins University
They are working on treatments for Retinitis Pigmentosa, a family of retinal diseases that progressively create extreme tunnel vision and loss of night vision and eventually leave affected patients legally blind.
“The award was originally conceived to produce at least one grant annually for the next eight to nine years,” says Brian F. Hofland, RPB president, “but we realized that the exceptional pool of applicants - truly some of the nation's foremost retina investigators - created an opportunity for us to make an immediate impact. It's an unusual application of endowed funds for us, but we are seizing the moment to push this promising science toward the goal."
Also today, the journal Nature Communications is publishing a paper showing that the stem cell technology pioneered by the Gamm laboratory can be used to grow retinal structures with working photoreceptors. The study was done in the laboratory of Dr. Maria Valeria Canto-Soler, director of the retinal degeneration research center at Johns Hopkins University, whose group succeeded in growing the most mature retinal tissue from iPSCs yet, including the formation of cells that can respond to light. (Canto-Soler won an RPB award in 2013.)
Gamm, who is a co-author on the new study, says the Johns Hopkins team grew the cells for more than 200 days, showing that the retinal structure continues to develop in the dish.
“This is the first time that we’ve seen photoreceptors grown in a culture dish demonstrate the capacity to sense light, which is an exciting finding by the Canto-Soler lab,’’ says Gamm, whose team was the first to develop a three-dimensional system for growing human retinal structures from stem cells. “It shows the promise of the technology.”
Gamm is an associate professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences and a member of the Waisman Center Stem Cell Research Program.
Date Published: 06/11/2014