TGF CONVENES 22nd ANNUAL THINK TANK
Dr. Robert Ritch, Think Tank Organizer
The theme of the 22nd Glaucoma Foundation Annual International Scientific Think Tank held in New York on September 18-19, 2015, was Regenerative Medicine for Cornea and Trabecular Meshwork.
The presentations focused on tissue regeneration in the eye, with researchers reporting on cutting edge topics that ranged from the status of stem cell-based therapies and the possibilities for bioengineering corneal and trabecular meshwork (TM) tissue to the potential for biological uses of 3-dimensional printing.
In attendance at this year’s conference were 47 participants, among them glaucoma and cornea investigators and clinicians, biologists, stem cell researchers, geneticists and bioengineers from throughout the US, as well as from Belgium, Canada, England, Germany, Ireland, Japan, and Singapore.
Dr. Robert Ritch, Founder and Medical Director of The Glaucoma Foundation and Think Tank organizer since its inception, greeted participants at the opening session. “Our goal is to foster new relationships that will lead to continued communication across disciplines and between laboratories – long after the meeting has ended,” said Dr. Ritch. “Moving forward with the creative and novel ideas that originate in these discussions can help us unlock the mysteries of glaucoma and restore vision lost from optic nerve damage.”
The program was unique in bringing corneal and trabecular meshwork regenerative research together, looking at advances in both. While there has been significant progress in the area of corneal regeneration, stem cell-based therapy to regenerate the trabecular meshwork and reduce IOP is a newer direction for glaucoma.
A large body of evidence links the cornea with various aspects of intraocular pressure and glaucoma. Among relevant attributes are corneal thickness, elasticity, viscosity and hysteresis, which is associated with risk of progression of visual field loss. Presenters reported on the status of current investigations into using patients’ own stem cells to regenerate damaged corneal tissue, which may lead to corneal repair replacing corneal transplants.
The stem cell-based challenges are greater where trabecular meshwork is concerned. Elevated intraocular pressure (IOP) is the main risk factor for primary open angle glaucoma and the only proven modifiable risk factor for glaucoma. Blockage of aqueous humor outflow through the trabecular meshwork and its inner lining – the juxtacanalicular meshwork and Schlemm’s canal endothelial cell layer – lead to elevated IOP. The goal continues to be to lower the pressure.
Studies have been underway to see whether replacement of damaged or lost trabecular meshwork cells with healthy stem cell derived TM-like cells can induce functional restoration and lower IOP following transplantation into glaucoma eyes. But there are hurdles to a cell-based strategy – e.g. the specific role of different TM cells are not yet really known.
The Think Tank discussion considered a different route as well – the feasibility of employing nanotechnology and bioengineering to recreate an implantable trabecular meshwork for restoring biological function lost from disease and injury.
The 2015 Think Tank, like earlier meetings, aimed at stimulating new collaborative research efforts. Said participant Yutao Liu, MD, PhD, associate professor of cellular biology and anatomy at Georgia Regents University: “It was a great success, especially in bringing corneal and trabecular network regenerative research together. The format of short presentations followed by long integrative discussion provided plenty of insightful comments and promoted more interaction between clinical and basic researchers.”
Scott Christensen, TGF President & Chief
Carlo Montemagno, PhD, University of Alberta
Mary Kelley, PhD, Oregon Health & Science
Think Tank Participants
Funding Research – Key to Finding a Cure
Ursula Schlötzer-Schrehardt, PhD, University of Erlangen-Nürnberg
The Glaucoma Foundation’s Grant-in-Aid Program awards seed money to investigators around the world to bring forth new findings that will advance our understanding of how glaucoma is triggered, why certain people are at increased risk and what can be done to halt progression of the disease. To gain the greatest impact with precious research dollars, TGF grants focus on a particular area. Beginning in 2013, TGF’s Grants Program has been exclusively funding projects on a pathway to cure exfoliation syndrome, the single most identifiable cause of glaucoma in the world.
The Foundation has just announced five new grants. The projects underway in the United States, Ireland and Singapore will further our understanding of the cellular mechanisms and genetic basis particular to exfoliation syndrome.
You can play a role in helping TGF “Cure Glaucoma Now.” We hope you will consider a gift to fund our innovative and sight-saving research and contribute now.
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