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ARRA Investments in Tissue Replacements for Retina

Public Health Burden
More than 1.3 million Americans were reported to be legally blind in 1994-1995.  Blindness is a debilitating condition which severely affects quality of life. The economic impact of vision problems in the US is estimated to be $51.4 Billion (Prevent Blindness America website).

Basic Research- Structure and Function of Neural Circuits
Basic research aimed at understanding retinal function and mapping the retinal neurons that serve as the early interpreters of vision is the first step to developing useful vision therapies.  Technologies like retinal chips and stem cell therapies may be better used with an increased understanding of the structure and function of the cells in the retina.
  • An ARRA grant is using genetic technologies to map the numerous types of neural cells that pass vision information on to the brain.  Having better maps of structure and function will aid in our understanding of how visual information is processed and in our interpretation of the neural code for replacement of damaged or diseased brain cells.1
  • An artificial environment developed using a 3-dimensional scaffold to grow neural cells from progenitor cells is proposed in another ARRA grant.  The grant will help aid in the understanding of how the retina develops and aid in tissue replacement therapies of the retina.2
  • Another ARRA grant is examining the motion sensitivity of cells in the retina.  The direction-selectivity processing of the retina is important for stabilizing images produced by the retina as a person moves through a visual scene.  Translating how retina activity processes this important information will be necessary for rescuing early visual defects and for devising strategies to rewire normal functioning neural circuits in response to visual deficits.3
Basic Research- Light Detection of Retinal Neurons
Research aimed at studying how the retina detects light will help aid our understanding of this significant process.  Understanding how the nervous system first interprets light signals will aid in the development of tissue replacement therapies for the retina.
  • Another ARRA project aims to understand the basic process of the interpretation of light signals as electrical signals in the eye.  Determining this process will help aid in restoring vision loss from retinal diseases.4
  • A new type of cell has been discovered in the retina that does not use the two classically known receptors to detect light. Studies supported by ARRA funds are determining how the protein machinery in the eye, called melanopsin, detects light and processes this information from the eye to the brain.5
Cell-Replacement Therapies- Basic Research
Replacement of damaged cells of the retina is a promising area for vision restoration. Sources of cells include stem cells already in neural tissue and inducing an existing cell type, such as a glia or ciliary cell to become a replacement cell for damaged retinal cells.  The focus of ARRA-funded research has been on inducing cells already present in the individual to replace damaged cells, circumventing complications of stem cell therapies from other individuals.
  • One grant is investigating the area where retinal cells are born and determining if this site can be induced to continue to make new cells (retinal ganglion cells) in later stages of development that would restore visual function.  If the grant is successful, then therapies can be given which can help a person’s own eye to regenerate and regain function after damage.6
  • Another grant is determining if a special type of cell in the retina, called a Mueller cell, expresses similar genes after injury as new neural cells. If this project is successful, then new therapies can use existing Mueller cells to repair damage or disease to the eye.7

  1. 1RC1EY020426-01 -- Transgenic Strategy to Map Structure and Function of Neural Circuits in Retina -- Meister, Markus (contact); Sanes, Joshua R (MA)
  2. 1RC1EY020297-01 -- Retinal Scaffolds: Synaptic and Stem Cell Integration -- Goldberg, Jeffrey L (FL)
  3. 1R01EY019498-01 -- Development of Direction Selectivity in the Retina -- Feller, Marla Beth (CA)
  4. 3R01EY003821-29S1 -- Cellular Neurobiology of the Retina -- Matthews, Gary G (NY)
  5. 3R01EY014596-07S1 -- Retinal Melanopsin Pathway: Signaling and Connectivity -- Yau, King-Wai (MD)
  6. 1R01EY018352-01A1 -- Neurogenesis at the Mammalian Retinal-Ciliary Margin -- Wang, Steven W (TX)
  7. 3R01EY013475-08S1 -- Stem Cells in the Retina -- Reh, Thomas A (WA)

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