Bri Heron, technology marketing manager at Indiana University’s Innovation and Commercialization Office, contributed the following story.
Current treatment options for degenerative retinal diseases are only temporary fixes. Degeneration of the retina can lead to partial loss of vision or complete blindness; however, a team of Indiana University researchers have found a method of developing retinal organoids that could lead to treatments that slow or reverse the disease.
Jason Meyer, PhD, an associate professor and the A. Donald Merritt Investigator of Medical and Molecular Genetics at the IU School of Medicine, and his team have developed a novel method of differentiating retinal cells from human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS). Meyer’s team has demonstrated a highly efficient approach to direct the differentiation of iPS cells into three-dimensional retinal organoids, which are three-dimensional representations of retinal tissue.
“Essentially, this differentiation tool helps with the study of retinal diseases,” Meyer said. “We can observe the development and degeneration of retinal neurons including retinal ganglion cells.”
Previously, generating cultures of 3D retinal organoids resulted in a relatively low yield (30-40 percent) of cells, but Meyer’s approach has resulted in a 100 percent yield of retinal organoids with a consistent shape and size, thus improving the study of retinal diseases significantly due to their more reliable and realistic representation of the human retina. Utilizing these retinal organoids can be instrumental for drug development to slow or reverse retinal degeneration.
Meyer’s paper, published in Stem Cell Reports, describes how retinal ganglion cells can be utilized to study how retinal cells are adversely affected in diseases such as glaucoma, and demonstrated the potential for drug screening approaches to identify possible treatments for optic neuropathies.
“While the use of stem cells and retinal organoids may have more immediate applications for the study of retinal diseases and the development of new drugs, alternate approaches are needed at advanced stages of retinal degenerative diseases when substantial numbers of cells have been lost,” said Meyer. “In this case, rather than fixing existing cells, there will be a need to replace those lost cells. Through these highly efficient methods for generating retinal organoids, investigators now have a virtually unlimited source of replacement cells to repopulate the retina and replace those cells that have been lost.”
Meyer has worked with the Innovation and Commercialization Office (ICO) for several inventions over the years and credits the office for his success.
“ICO has been instrumental in moving the needle while we continue our research,” said Meyer. “From patent filing to commercializing, ICO has been helpful every step of the way.”
Below is a 2019 video spotlighting Meyer’s biology lab, its work to fix damaged human retinal systems with stem cells and efforts to maintain a team spirit.