A multidisciplinary group of researchers is building a model of the retina that will help doctors better diagnose and develop treatments for age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Kristyn Masters and Pam Kreeger, both associate professors of biomedical engineering, in conjunction with Aparna Lakkaraju, an assistant professor with the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, recently received a two-year, $435,569 grant for their project, “Identification of novel therapeutic targets for age-related macular degeneration via a combined tissue engineering and systems biology approach.” Through this research, Masters and Kreeger will be combining their interest in angiogenesis—the creation of new blood vessels—with knowledge of the human eye.
AMD, the deterioration of the macula in the eye, is the leading cause of blindness in the western world, and affects more people than all types of cancers combined. Although angiogenesis is often considered a beneficial and healthy process, when it becomes uncontrolled, it can be a detrimental factor in many diseases, such as cancer and AMD. By making a tissue-engineered model of the retina, the research team will be able to study how various changes happening in the eye at different ages can regulate the occurrence of angiogenesis. By plotting different stages of the disease, the researchers will help identify the best medical approaches at different stages of AMD.
Currently, the only treatment for AMD is the injection of an antibody, which provides a long-term efficacious response in only 20 percent of patients.
“There’s a lot of room out there to design better treatment to stop the progression of AMD,” Masters says. “We hope this model will help us find out more about this disease, so we can find treatments that target more than one biomolecule, or different biomolecules, depending on the stage of the disease.”
This is the first time Masters and Kreeger have embarked on research in the area of eye diseases, and through UW-Madison collaborations and an interdisciplinary grant through the UW-Madison Graduate School, they were able to fund preliminary data that will help guide them through early research on a relatively foreign topic.
“I really hope this is a new branch that my lab will get into, and stay in as well,” Masters says. “Modeling the retinal environment in vitro and studying the interactions between retinal cells could provide a powerful tool that will allow us to learn more about the biology and potential treatment of this disease.”
Author: Lexy Brodt