Hope Rising

A new building rises from the ground— and hope rises with it. The UCSF Center for Vision at Mission Bay and increased research funding are bringing together an extraordinary team advancing sight for all.

Friends of That Man May See and the University of California, San Francisco, have raised nearly $170 million for the Future of Vision. That includes an investment of $45 million to fuel new knowledge and sight-saving discoveries in vision science.

 

Investing in Pioneers

Understanding the biology of the eye/brain circuitry is ground zero for halting blindness from retinal degenerations and related conditions. In the past year, the Department of Ophthalmology has added four powerhouse laboratory researchers.

Lamba Research
Retinal repair and transplantation face challenges from immune responses involving macrophage cells, such as those pictured here. Dr. Lamba’s team works on modulating these cells to promote successful retinal repair.

Developmental neurobiologist Xin Duan,PhD, cellular biologist Aparna Lakkaraju, PhD, neurobiologist and bio-engineer Deepak Lamba, MBBS, PhD, and molecular biologist Maxence Nachury, PhD, expand the department’s expertise in cells and structures that contribute to the neural circuitry from the retina to the visual cortex.

Each of these pioneers leads many promising initiatives. Their work complements the department’s initiatives at the forefront of genetics, physiology, and biochemistry. Clinician researchers who provide specialized vision care also collaborate and propel new insights to stop vision loss.

“Every vision scientist has a distinct focus and skill set,” explains retinal physiologist Felice Dunn, PhD, who partners with Dr. Duan and glaucoma specialist Yvonne Ou, MD. “We leverage complementary strengths and diverse viewpoints to amplify discovery and innovation across all dimensions of the challenge.”

“We are in a very strong place,” says Department Chair Stephen D. McLeod,MD, “and we are grateful to donors whose support brought together this dream team.” Director of Research Doug Gould, PhD, agrees. “With the expertise of our new biologists, we’re working on more pieces of the eye/brain puzzle, including every layer of the retina. Novel strategies to overcome retinal sight loss are already emerging from these new labs.”

 

Stem Cells Advance Solutions

Thanks to pluripotent stem cell methods developed at UCSF, vision scientists now develop retinal cells in the laboratory. UCSF biologists test drugs on these experimental cells, identifying promising directions for treatment, including patient-specific drugs. They even grow retinal tissue from patients’ own skin cells, driving research on cell replacement therapies.

 

Target, Repair, Regrow, Replace

A tadpole can regrow a damaged tail, but retinal nerve cells never grow back. Knowledge emerging from eye/brain research will one day enable ophthalmologists to repair and/or transplant retinal cells and restore sight. Dr. Duan’s team aims to restore retinal function by reactivating, rewiring, and/or genetically regenerating specific types of retinal cells. Dr. Lamba’s team grows retinal micro-organs to explore conditions necessary for successful retinal transplants.

Solving the Puzzle of the Eye/Brain Circuitry
Solving the Puzzle of the Eye/Brain Circuitry – Vision begins when light hits the retina’s photoreceptors. Millions of retinal cells organized in multiple layers work together to transmit electrical signals through the optic nerve to the visual cortex.

 

Accelerating Discovery

High-resolution confocal microscopes provide the most detailed images ever seen of living human retinal tissue. Dr. Nachury’s team uses the technology to understand tiny cellular antennae called cilia. Genetic defects in the cilia contribute to retinal degeneration and a broad class of health disorders. His team investigates a precision-medicine strategy to treat an inherited syndromic retinal degeneration.

Dr. Lakkaraju’s team performs live imaging of healthy and diseased retinas to identify early triggers that drive vision loss in inherited and age-related macular degenerations.

Aparna Lakkaraju
Dr. Lakkaraju’s team identified promising small molecule drugs that are now in preclinical evaluation. Dr. Lakkaraju (right) discusses a sensitive biochemical technique with team member Li Xuan Tan, PhD

Hope in Action

UCSF promotes cross-disciplinary collaboration, an approach that has changed the course of medicine. Vision scientists team up with diverse leaders across the Mission Bay research hub and around the world. Joint appointments to the UCSF Center for Regenerative Medicine, Department of Neurology, and Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease strengthen key partnerships.

“New studies confirm that collaboration in basic science can lead to cures, drugs, and other medical breakthroughs,” says Dr. Gould. “We are leveraging this approach better than ever with a full complement of exceptional laboratory scientists.” Dr. McLeod concurs: “This team will make even greater strides in expanding knowledge of the visual system and solving some of the most intractable sight conditions.”

Laboratory research support is provided by the National Institutes of Health, Research to Prevent Blindness, and That Man May See.