OHSU Casey Eye Institute Receives Grant To study Stem Cells For Degenerative Eye Diseases

02/11/08  Portland, Ore

The Oregon Retinal Degeneration Center at Oregon Health & Science University Casey Eye Institute has received the first installment of a $4.75 million grant from the Lincy Foundation.

The Oregon Retinal Degeneration Center at Oregon Health & Science University Casey Eye Institute has received the first installment of a $4.75 million grant from the Lincy Foundation. The grant will be used to develop stem cell therapies to treat retinal degeneration, in particular age-related macular degeneration.

This grant will make OHSU one of the only institutes in the country testing stem cell therapies to prevent blindness from degenerative eye diseases.

Oregon Retinal Degeneration Center researchers Peter Francis, M.D., Ph.D., Ray Lund, Ph.D., Richard Weleber, M.D., and Shaomei Wang, M.D., Ph.D.; along with Martha Neuringer, Ph.D., of the Oregon National Primate Research Center, will collaborate on the research. OHSU also will collaborate with colleagues at the Waisman Center Stem Cell Research Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Degenerative retinal diseases include age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and a group of genetic diseases collectively known as retinitis pigmentosa An estimated 1.7 million people in the United States have some vision loss from AMD, and that number is expected to grow as the population ages. Treatment for the 'dry' form of AMD is currently very limited.  Retinitis pigmentosa causes profound vision loss and eventually leads to blindness. There is currently no treatment and no way to slow the progressive vision loss.

The research this grant funds will build on OHSU's commitment to translational research, the process of moving discoveries quickly and efficiently from the lab into clinical treatments. The grant from the Lincy Foundation is designed to fund research from the initial stages through animal model testing and on to a phase 1 clinical trial to test the safety of the therapies in human subjects.

"We are very excited and honored to have received this significant award. Retinal stem cell therapy has the potential to help a lot of blinding retinal conditions," said Peter Francis, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of ophthalmology in the OHSU School of Medicine and associate director of this retinal stem cell program.

The Oregon Retinal Degeneration Center at the OHSU Casey Eye Institute conducts genetic research on juvenile-, adult- and age-related macular dystrophies and degenerations. Because the genetic and biochemical bases are known for only a few of these diseases, specific treatment is available for only a few rare types. The center provides ophthalmological evaluation, diagnosis, consultation and prognostic and genetic counseling.