NEWS | October 17, 2018

New therapies to treat naturally occurring eye diseases focus of $6 million grant from the National Eye Institute

(SACRAMENTO)

A team of researchers from UC Davis, the California National Primate Research Center at UC Davis and Baylor College of Medicine are studying naturally occurring eye diseases in non-human primates that result in the loss of cells in the retina that detect color and are working to develop treatments for animals and humans, thanks to a $6 million grant from the National Eye Institute Audacious Goals Initiative for Regenerative Medicine.

The UC Davis-Baylor team is one of five to receive the special funding, which seeks to catalyze new treatments for blinding conditions like glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa, and other degenerative eye diseases. New models will enable researchers to test novel regenerative therapies, including gene- and cell-based therapies, and help transition them to the clinic.

In humans, cones are concentrated in an area of the retina responsible for central vision called the macula. Few models of cone disorders exist because many of the animals most commonly used in research have primarily rod photoreceptors, which cannot detect color, and few cone photoreceptors.

Interest in the research began when investigators at the California National Primate Research Center discovered several animals with impaired vision from poorly functioning cone receptors. They consulted with the Baylor team who identified specific mutations in genes like PDE6C, which causes cone photoreceptor degeneration in humans. The funded research will characterize retinal degeneration in the animals, explore ways to replace cone photoreceptors and restore visual function, and survey additional animals to identify other naturally occurring disease models.

“Models that recapitulate human disease are essential to predicting the success of new therapies in humans. These audacious projects will be pivotal in our efforts to translate the latest science advances into new treatments for vision loss and blindness,” said NEI Director Paul A. Sieving.

Principal investigators of the “Models of Cone Disorders and Other Heritable Retinal Diseases” grant include Sara M. Thomasy and Ala Moshiri at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and School of Medicine, respectively, and the California National Primate Research Center; and Jeffrey A. Rogers, Rui Chen and John T. Stout at Baylor College of Medicine.

More information about NEI’s Audacious Goals Initiative, visit https://www.nei.nih.gov