When our eyes cry for help, we need someone who listens!

2018 edition

Martina Pesaresi

Millions of people worldwide suffer from visual disabilities as a result of retinal disease and degeneration. Despite our advanced understanding of retina biology and pathology, we currently lack effective treatments for these conditions. Among the strategies that are being investigated, cell therapy stands out for the promising outcomes of both pre-clinical and clinical studies.

However, the beneficial effects of cell therapy are dampened by the problem of low migration and integration rates into the host tissue. Indeed, on average, only 0.03% to 0.2% of the transplanted cells are integrated into the recipient retina. In other words, therapeutic cells are unable to reach the site of damage, where they are needed.

Generally speaking, cell migration is mediated by interaction between specific signals (released by the damaged tissue) and the corresponding receptors (found on the surface of receiving cells).

In this perspective, we are trying to characterise the signals that are released in the context of retinal degeneration. With this knowledge, we can then modify the cells that we transplant, making them more responsive to these retina-specific signals. In particular, we can provide them with additional copies of the receptors they need in order to accurately detect where the damage is located.

This strategy could lead to significant improvements with respect to migration and integration of transplanted cells, thereby contributing to the further development and optimization of cell therapy as a curative tool.