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3D Lab Model Developed in Search for New Therapies for AMD

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which leads to a loss of central vision, is the most frequent cause of blindness in adults 50 years of age or older, affecting an estimated 196 million people worldwide. There is no cure, though treatment can slow the onset and preserve some vision.

Researchers at the University of Rochester report that they have made an important breakthrough in the quest for an AMD cure. Their first three-dimensional (3D) lab model mimics the part of the human retina affected in macular degeneration.

Their model combines stem cell-derived retinal tissue and vascular networks from human patients with bioengineered synthetic materials in a 3D matrix. Using patient-derived 3D retinal tissue allowed the researchers to investigate the underlying mechanisms involved in advanced neovascular macular degeneration—the wet form of macular degeneration—which is the more debilitating and blinding form of the disease.

The scientists, who published their study (“3D iPSC modeling of the retinal pigment epithelium-choriocapillaris complex identifies factors involved in the pathology of macular degeneration”) in Cell Stem Cell, have also demonstrated that wet-AMD-related changes in their human retina model could be targeted with drugs.

“The retinal pigment epithelium (RPE)-choriocapillaris (CC) complex in the eye is compromised in age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and related macular dystrophies (MDs), yet in vitro models of RPE-CC complex that enable investigation of AMD/MD pathophysiology are lacking. By incorporating iPSC-derived cells into a hydrogel-based extracellular matrix, we developed a 3D RPE-CC model that recapitulates key features of both healthy and AMD/MD eyes and provides modular control over RPE and CC layers,” write the investigators.

“Using this 3D RPE-CC model, we demonstrated that both RPE- and mesenchyme-secreted factors are necessary for the formation of fenestrated CC-like vasculature. Our data show that choroidal neovascularization (CNV) and CC atrophy occur in the absence of endothelial cell dysfunction and are not necessarily secondary to drusen deposits underneath RPE cells, and CC atrophy and/or CNV can be initiated systemically by patient serum or locally by mutant RPE-secreted factors.

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