At the Center for Vision Research, Drs. Michael Zuber and Andrea Viczian are leading the effort to generate retinal cells that can be used in replacement therapies to heal eyes damaged by traumatic injury.
Once retinal cells are lost, the human eye cannot replace them on its own. Center for Vision Research investigators are identifying the genes and culture conditions necessary to generate these cells.
This work is focused on determining how stem cells can be coaxed to form rod, cone and other retinal cells types in the culture dish by recreating the environments in which retinal cells form during embryonic development. If successful, these cells could not only be used to treat retinal damage due to trauma, but also other blinding diseases such as Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Retinitis Pigmentosa.
"It may soon be possible to replace adult eye cells lost as a result of retinal injury or disease," predicted Dr. Zuber. The cutting edge research being done by this dedicated team is filling the gaps in our understanding of how retinal cells form during development and applying this knowledge to find practical solutions for generating these sight saving cells.
What we know about eye injuries
Athletes at every level are aware of the potential for injury when an elbow, blow to the head or flying ball hits their eye. Each year, tens of thousands of sports-related eye injuries occur, while more are caused by fireworks, bb guns, falls and sharp objects hitting an unprotected eye. Workplace eye injuries occur less frequently (primarily due to enforcement of safety regulations) but can be just as serious, involving chemicals or other foreign substances.
Trauma is a leading cause of retinal detachments, especially in people age 25 to 45. Thanks to advancements in microscopic surgery, researchers have developed ways to repair damaged internal structures of the eye paving the way for research being done today.
How does research help?
Over one million people suffer eye injuries each year in the United States. Many of these injuries, in particular retinal detachment, need immediate attention to avoid risk of permanent, serious vision loss. Though treatable, surgery to correct extensive eye injury is relatively new, and the body of knowledge available for medical researchers and personnel to collaborate and improve current practice is just beginning to grow.
More research is needed to develop genetic and other solutions, giving hope for answers to completely restore vision in the most critically injured.