Decoding the language spoken between cells to treat AMD
There is currently no cure for atrophic age-related macular degeneration, or dry AMD.
That’s why Dr Yvette Wooff from the Australian National University in Canberra is researching new gene therapies to treat AMD, courtesy of an MDFA research grant.
Dr Wooff is one of eight exciting researchers to successfully apply for the latest round of MDFA Research Grants Program funding, which was announced in May 2021.
Dry AMD occurs when retinal cells gradually die, leading to patches of missing retina and the loss of central vision. Dry AMD accounts for around one-third of late AMD cases, damaging the eyesight of 90,000 Australians.
But MDFA funding is now allowing Dr Wooff to investigate cell particles called extracellular vesicles (EV), which could help develop novel gene therapies for dry AMD.
“Cells have a language that researchers are only now starting to understand,” Dr Wooff says.
Dr Wooff’s project
Dr Wooff explains that in order to maintain tissue health, cells communicate by transferring molecular cargo using small cell-to-cell delivery vehicles called extracellular vesicles (EV).
As we age, the loss of EV communication correlates with increased retinal cell death, such as the atrophy that occurs during AMD.
“We believe that replenishing EV and their cargo will restore the communication channels required for maintaining retinal health and slow the progression of retinal degenerations, including age-related macular degeneration,” Dr Wooff says.
Dr Wooff’s MDFA-funded project – which is titled ‘Treat yourself! The use of therapeutically-loaded extracellular vesicles as a novel gene therapy for the treatment of age-related macular degeneration’ – will examine this hypothesis.
“To investigate this, we will profile EV from healthy and diseased retinas and supplement the degenerating retina with essential retinal EV cargo,” Dr Wooff continues.
“We will load and deliver this essential cargo using EV derived from stem cells to reduce the risk of immune attack to the patient.
“This work will identify a therapeutic profile of essential EV cargo required for retinal health and help develop EV-based gene therapies for the treatment of AMD.”
About the Research Grants Program
Dr Wooff’s study was awarded $45,282 over one year at an event hosted by His Excellency the Honourable David Hurley, Governor-General of Australia, at Admiralty House in Sydney in May 2021.
Dr Wooff was one of eight Australian researchers to share more than $1 million in this latest round of MDFA research funding, bringing MDFA’s total commitment to $5.1 million since 2011.
That investment makes MDFA Australia’s largest source of research funding in the field of macular disease outside of government, supporting 25 ground-breaking Australian researchers over the past decade.
Posted: 19 May 2021
Cells have a language that researchers are only now starting to understand.Dr Yvette Wooff
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MDFA has awarded more than $1 million in research funding to eight promising projects, in the search for a cure for macular diseases.