New Approaches to Curing Blinding Diseases

–submitted by Valerie Johnson   

Dave Gamm in labRotarians heard from David M. Gamm, Associate Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, how new research in gene and stem cell based therapies are helping cure blindness.

Working with a team of 150 researchers, Gamm’s work is leading to new technology that will help to provide answers to the cause of blindness.  The team’s research is also focused on how this could change lives.  “More than 100,000 people in Wisconsin alone are affected by vision loss for which there is no treatment,” Gamm said.

“I get patients coming in every day whom I can’t help,” Gamm said. “That drives me every day to fill that gap.”

His laboratory work focuses on two approaches to curing blindness.  First, the team investigates cellular and molecular events that occur during human retinal differentiation.  Second, they generate cells to use in retinal disease modeling and cell-based rescue or replacement therapies. To meet these goals, they need a variety of human cell types, including embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells, which have the capacity to model retinal development and disease, as well as to delineate the genetic “checkpoints” necessary to produce particular retinal cell types.

Gamm shared the story of Mr. Reeves, a truck driver with Best disease, who was told he’d go blind, lose his job and that his children and grandchildren would inherit the disease.  The ability to participate in stem cell trial allowed Mr. Reeves to fight for therapies that would help generations to come.  “This is very powerful for both patients and me,” Gamm said.

Gamm is also part of the McPherson Eye Research Institute, a collaboration of interdisciplinary researchers.

CLICK to watch the video on our club’s YouTube channel.

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