A research team led by principal investigator Kang Zhang, MD, PhD, professor of ophthalmology at the University of California, San Diego's Shiley Eye Center and director of UCSD's Institute of Genomic Medicine, has been awarded a five year, $4.66 million NIH Transformative Award.
Zhang and co-principal investigators Sheng Ding, PhD, from The Scripps Research Institute, and Thomas Reh, PhD from the University of Washington, received the highest possible scores for their proposal to investigate the regenerative potential of retinal cells. Their long-term goal is to restore visual function lost through diseases such as macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.
"The success of this work could mean a paradigm shift in how retinal disease is treated, and could have broad and profound impact on human disease therapies by utilizing the regenerative power of our own cells," said Zhang.
Some vertebrates, such as goldfish and newts, have a remarkable ability to regenerate a lost limb or eye something it was thought no mammal can do. However, they recently showed proof of principle at a small scale level in mice by turning Muller cells into a type of retinal neuron.
"The human genome is quite similar to that of a newt, but we humans seem to have lost the potential to regenerate our own cells, possibly due to some inhibitory mechanims," Zhang said. "We are seeking small molecule chemicals that can block these inhibitions and consequently unlock humans' regenerative potential."
The Transformative Award program, funded through the Office of the NIH Director and the Common Fund, is intended "to support research that has the potential to transform the way we think about and conduct science, so the recipients represent an elite few with truly bold ideas," according to Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutions of Health.
The researchers are looking at particular kinds of cells called Muller cells,
|Contact: Debra Kain|
University of California -- San Diego