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In this video interview, Anna La Torre, PhD discusses the Catalyst for a Cure Vision Restoration Initiative funded by Glaucoma Research Foundation.
Dr. La Torre is an Associate Professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Human Anatomy at the School of Medicine, University of California, Davis. Dr. La Torre’s laboratory focuses on generating retinal ganglion cells from stem cells to enhance axonal growth and cell survival and ultimately, to use these cells as donor cells for cell replacement therapies. In this video interview from October 2019, she talks about her collaboration with the other three principal investigators in the Catalyst for a Cure as they seek to find ways to restore vision for glaucoma patients.
Anna La Torre, PhD: The goal of the Catalyst for a Cure Vision Restoration Team is to really bring together our expertise to try to find some ways to restore vision in patients that have lost, partially or totally, their vision in glaucoma.
Restoring vision is a really challenging goal. So we're trying to cover all our bases, and the first thing we're trying to do is something called neuroprotection. We try to find ways to protect the cells that are still there and try to rewire the axons of the retinal ganglion cells. These are the little wires that connect the retina with the brain at the stage of a disease that the cells are still there, but this little connection is slowly degenerating. The other thing that we are trying to develop is technologies to be able to transplant new cells after the normal cells of a patient have already degenerated. So that second [goal] is a lot more challenging, but we are hopeful that we can make a difference.
I am a developmental biologist, and my passion is to understand how embryos develop and to understand how stem cells are able to make all these different cell types that make a human body including the eye. And so, in the lab we figured out the ways that stem cells make retinal cells, and we can apply that into cultures in a dish. Now we can create retinal cells in Petri dishes, and we can really scale up the production of these cells.
The final goal of creating the cells in the lab is to then have donor cells for transplantation approaches. So the final goal is to be able to collect the cells that we make in the lab, transplant them in the eye of a patient and hopefully find ways to really correctly rewire the lost connections.
I became a scientist because I think I'm a very curious person, and so I always wanted to know how things work, how cells work. But also, probably during my postdoc, I really wanted to make a difference for human health and to have research that's really meaningful and improve human lives.
For me being part of the [Catalyst for a Cure] team is a unique opportunity. So, by bringing all of us together, we can create a project that wouldn't be possible in any of our labs by themselves. And so, to me, I'm learning a lot from the other team members, but we're also creating something together that hopefully is something very unique and can really lead to important discoveries.
I am very optimistic. I think that science is now progressing at the rate that we've never seen before. There's new discoveries every day that really change everything we can do, and so what we're trying to achieve is absolutely challenging and difficult. It's going to take a while and lots of effort, but I'm really hopeful that we will be able to restore vision at some point in the future.
We are engineering stem cells to try to make them better at being donor cells. We are engineering them in ways so we can screen how we can get them to really engraft in a host retina after we transplant them and how we can get them to survive better after the transplantation and extend these axons that are really what's needed to restore vision in the future.
Last reviewed on August 07, 2020