Study: Utah researcher validates alternative treatments for AMD disease

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Researchers found the growth of RPE cells was successfully controlled by the stencil patterns. When RPE cells were not held together correctly, the cells excreted levels of harmful proteins that could contribute to vision loss.

Elizabeth Vargis, PhD, right, and PhD student Chase Patterson found that RPE cells could be successfully controlled by using stencil patterns, which could be a useful strategy for treating AMD. (Image courtesy of Utah State University/Matt Jensen)

Elizabeth Vargis, PhD, right, and PhD student Chase Patterson found that RPE cells could be successfully controlled by using stencil patterns, which could be a useful strategy for treating AMD. (Image courtesy of Utah State University/Matt Jensen)

A team of researchers led by a Utah State University has found a possible solution for treating age-related macular degeneration, one of the leading causes of vision loss for older adults.

In a study, published November 3 in Molecular Vision Journal, Elizabeth Vargis, PhD, an associate professor of biological engineering, indicated that controlling the growth of retinal pigment epithelial cells, an important cell found in the eye, can explain the relationship between RPE cell detachment and blood vessel formation. RPE cells help maintain healthy vision by transporting nutrients to the parts of the eye that visualize light.

According to the study, when RPE cells begin to break down, it can lead to age-related macular degeneration. Current treatments target a protein called VEGF, which is responsible for abnormal blood vessel growth in the retina through a process called angiogenesis.1

“While AMD treatments target VEGF to slow the angiogenesis process, there are other proteins that could contribute to AMD and could be potential targets for treatment,” Vargis said in a Utah State University news release.2

Vargis and her team used micropatterning, or creation of specifically patterned surfaces to control the arrangement of RPE cells using stencils. Patterns were formed in the stencils to mimic 10 percent, 25 percent and 50 percent detachment within an RPE cell layer. Concentrations of other proteins in the eye were also measured as potential treatments, according to the news release.

Vargis, with graduate students Chase Paterson and Jamen Cannon, used stencils to control the arrangement of RPE cells in the lab, and they found that when junction proteins were disrupted, the cells secreted more of these harmful proteins.2

They also observed that the loss of junction proteins reduced the cells' ability to support photoreceptors, which are necessary for seeing, according to the university’s news release.

Moreover, according to the Utah State University news release, results showed that the growth of RPE cells was successfully controlled by the stencil patterns. When RPE cells were not held together correctly, the cells excreted levels of harmful proteins that could contribute to vision loss. Targeting those certain proteins for treatment could be a useful strategy for treating AMD, but more research will be needed to understand the timeline of their contributions to retinal diseases.

This work was supported by the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health Grant R15EY028732.

Reference:
  1. Elizabeth Vargis, PhD; Chase Paterson, Jamen Cannon. The impact of early RPE cell junction loss on VEGF, Ang-2, and TIMP secretion in vitro. Molecular Vision Journal. 87-101. Published November 3, 2023. Accessed November 8, 2023. DOI: http://www.molvis.org/molvis/v29/87
  2. University US. USU Biological Engineering Professor Validates Alternative Treatments for Macular Degeneration. Utah State Today. Published November 3, 2023. Accessed November 9, 2023. https://www.usu.edu/today/story/usu-biological-engineering-professor-validates-alternative-treatments-for-macular-degeneration
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