2/2011

New treatments for degenerative eye diseases

Minna Kellomäki

The number of people suffering from severe retinal diseases will multiply in the coming
decades due to the rapidly ageing population. Researchers are developing new treatments
under the supervision of Professor Minna Kellomäki at TUT.

Due to the rapidly aging population, the worldwide prevalence of blinding retinal diseases is expected to grow dramatically over the next few decades. Researchers at TUT are involved in developing new treatments to prevent vision loss.

TUT will launch a project this autumn to develop future treatments for age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. The project is funded by the Academy of Finland and conducted under the supervision of Professor Minna Kellomäki.

The project will take a two-pronged approach, focusing both on stem cell therapeutics and the development of active biomaterials for retinal prostheses.

The latter line of research attempts to develop new treatments for chronic retinal diseases using ICT implants. Researchers based at Tohoku University, Japan, have built an electrical implant seeking to restore sight to patients suffering from macular degeneration.

"We're currently setting the collaborative arrangements with our Japanese colleagues. My group will investigate biomaterials for their potential use in the prototype, test them for biocompatibility and take part in developing the materials," says Kellomäki.

Are stem cells the solution...

The other line of research is based on tissue and cell engineering - a field currently booming in Tampere and in the newly established Institute of Biosciences and Medical Technology (BioMediTech) - whereby human cells are used to grow replacement parts for defective or damaged body parts.

The efforts of Kellomäki's and Professor Jari Hyttinen's groups and the Ophthalmology Group at the University of Tampere's Institute of Biomedical Technology are geared toward finding better ways to treat age-related macular degeneration. The two groups are developing materials that can be used to reliably grow and differentiate embryonic stem cells into retinal pigment epithelial cells.

"Age-related macular degeneration is a condition that damages the layer of retinal pigment epithelial cells and eventually leads to the death of photoreceptors that transmit light signals into the optic nerve. In this project, we're attempting to repair the damages by replacing defective epithelial cells with cells derived from embryonic stem cells," explains Kellomäki.

In the first stage of the project, Kellomäki's group is in charge of developing biodegradable scaffolds that provide ideal conditions for growing retinal cells.

...coupled with a multidisciplinary approach?

Professor Jari Hyttinen supervises a research group at TUT that explores bioelectric phenomena within cells. The group is also involved in the project.

As human cells, including eye cells, communicate with each other using electrical signals, the retinal implant developed by the Japanese research group uses electrical stimulation.

"The researchers pursuing the stem cell-based approach monitor impulses in order to determine the developmental stage of stem cells undergoing differentiation. An electrical impulse verifies that the cells have adhered to one another, which means that the cell culture has matured and the project can continue to the next stage," says Kellomäki.

The Academy of Finland has funded the Finnish-Japanese collaboration with EUR 360,000.

 

Further information:

Department of Biomedical Engineering (TUT)

Tohoku University, Japan

 

BioMediTech brings together experts in life sciences and medical technology

The newly established Institute of Biosciences and Medical Technology, BioMediTech, is a joint institute between Tampere University of Technology and the University of Tampere.

BioMediTech brings together multidisciplinary expertise in life sciences and medical technology. The institute aims not only to integrate and strengthen the local tradition of excellence in life science research and education but also to create new platforms for discovery and innovation.

The institute employs more than 250 scientists who pursue research and provide education in cell and molecular biology, genetics, biomaterials, biosensors, computational systems, biotechnology, biomedical engineering, and regenerative medicine.

The research is funded by the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation (TEKES), the Academy of Finland, the Council of Tampere Region, the European Union and the European Research Council.

Further information:
www.biomeditech.fi
Open positions at BioMediTech

 

Text: Päivä Eskelinen
Photo: Petri Laitinen

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