Basic Science Research

Retina: Ocular Cell Transplantation


 The Ocular Cell Transplantation Laboratory is the basic science research division, which focuses on the development of transplantation technology for the treatment of a variety of retinal diseases, e.g., age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and retinitis pigmentosa. Co-directed by Dr. Marco Zarbin and Ms. Ilene Sugino, the goal of this laboratory is to functionalize cell-based therapy as a treatment option for patients with geographic atrophy, the advanced form of dry AMD. The aim of cell-based therapy for AMD is to replace diseased, dying, or absent retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) resulting from aging or AMD.

A major obstacle to successful RPE transplantation in AMD patients is the failure of transplanted cells to survive and become functional in the patient's eye. RPE transplantation in AMD patients typically has, so far, produced only limited visual recovery.  An important limitation to RPE transplantation success is age- and/or AMD-related modification of Bruch’s membrane, the surface on which transplanted RPE must survive. Such changes to Bruch's membrane appear to have a significant effect on RPE graft survival. Evidence from aged and AMD donor eye-based organ culture assays performed in our laboratory are predictive of the poor survival observed in patients receiving RPE transplants, even when healthy RPE cells, i.e., cultured fetal human RPE and RPE derived from human embryonic stem cells, are transplanted.

Utilizing the organ culture assay, the Ocular Cell Transplantation Laboratory research team has discovered a biological mixture that supports attachment and long-term survival of RPE cells, including those derived from human embryonic stem cells, transplanted into early and late AMD donor eyes. Current studies are aimed at identifying bioactive components, with the long-term goal of developing a synthesized mixture of bioactive molecules to be used as an adjunct to RPE replacement therapy, thus supporting graft survival and functionality in AMD eyes.

For more information on current research efforts of the Ocular Cell Transplantation Laboratory, please contact the Chairman, Marco A. Zarbin, MD, PhD, FAACS (pictured above) or the Laboratory Director, Ilene Sugino, MS (pictured above).

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