A Utah State University professor, along with her team, has discovered a potential solution for addressing age-related macular degeneration, a primary cause of vision impairment among the elderly.
Elizabeth Vargis, an associate professor of biological engineering, recently published a paper in the Molecular Vision Journal on November 3rd. Vargis' research reveals that the regulation of retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cell growth, a crucial cell type within the eye, can elucidate the connection between RPE cell detachment and the formation of blood vessels. RPE cells play a vital role in sustaining clear vision by delivering essential nutrients to the light-sensing parts of the eye.
When RPE cells deteriorate, it can lead to age-related macular degeneration, resulting in vision loss. Current treatments focus on targeting a protein known as VEGF, which is responsible for abnormal blood vessel development in the retina via a process called angiogenesis.
"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.
Using micropatterning, a technique involving the creation of precisely patterned surfaces, Vargis and her team achieved precise control over the organization of RPE cells by employing stencils. These stencils were designed to generate patterns that replicated 10 percent, 25 percent, and 50 percent detachment within an RPE cell layer. Additionally, they measured the concentrations of other proteins in the eye to explore their potential as treatment options.
Using stencils to manipulate the arrangement of RPE cells within the laboratory, Vargis, alongside graduate students Chase Paterson and Jamen Cannon, uncovered that the disruption of junction proteins led to an increased secretion of these detrimental proteins by the cells. Furthermore, they observed that the loss of junction proteins compromised the cells' capacity to support photoreceptors, crucial for vision.
The results demonstrated effective control of RPE cell growth through the application of stencil patterns. When RPE cells lacked proper adherence, they released elevated levels of harmful proteins, which could potentially contribute to vision impairment. Targeting these specific proteins as a treatment strategy for AMD could prove beneficial, though further research is required to elucidate the timeline of their involvement in retinal diseases.
The impact of early RPE cell junction loss on VEGF, Ang-2, and TIMP secretion in vitro, Molecular Vision, www.molvis.org/molvis/v29/87/index.html