This webinar will be presented by Avril Watson. Avril is a PhD candidate of Stem Cell Biology in Professor Majlinda Lako’s group at Newcastle University and also a Scientist at Newcells Biotech Ltd. She is funded through the Marie Curie Actions project StarT which focuses on diagnosis, treatment and modelling of Stargardt disease. Her research is focused on modelling Stargardt disease with mini-retinas generated from patients with late-onset Stargardt disease. Avril has always had an interest in retinal disease and has worked in various retinal research groups in Ireland before moving to the UK to continue her studies. Aside from her interest in retinal research, Avril plays guitar, loves to swim and is a big fan of dogs!
Inherited retinal disorders affect nearly one in 2,000 people in the world. Despite such a high frequency, there are limited treatment options available. There are a number of factors responsible for this. One of the main issues is the difference in early symptoms and also in the progression of disease over time, even in cases where individuals have the same genetic diagnosis. Considering this, each case of retinal blindness turns out to be quite rare, and so it can be difficult to make personalised medicine for each and every person. The trick is to identify common symptoms between different retinal diseases, so that the therapy can be used to help as many people as possible. However, this is easier said than done!
With the help of mini-retinas, we can study these diseases in a patient-specific manner and on a much more in-depth scale. Mini-retinas are essentially mini eyeballs in a dish. They contain all of the cell types in the human retina and we can perform many experiments on these to figure out the missing pieces in the puzzle. This allows us to identify new patterns in retinal disease that drugs can later be developed for. As mini-retinas are very similar to the real thing in human, we can also use them to test out these new treatments to ensure that they do what they’re supposed to. This testing strategy allows therapies to proceed through all the regulatory processes quicker and with more confidence so that they can be one step closer to being used in the clinic to prevent/treat vision loss.
In this webinar, Avril will discuss some of the existing therapies available for retinal disease, and some that are being developed for a number of different retinal conditions, highlighting how mini-retina are important in the drug development process.