Halting Cell Death to Save Vision

April 3rd, 2017 by FFB Canada

It is a fundamental principle in biology: eventually, everything dies.

Dr. Philippe Monnier is no stranger to the principle. He confronts it within his lab on a regular basis. But while he and his team recognize the inevitability of death, they are also committed to pushing back against its early onset, particularly in relation to vision and cellular function.

Many forms of vision loss, such as retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), are a result of the death of cells. In these and similar diseases, the culprit is a specific set of cells housed in the retina called photoreceptors. These cells enable the eye to capture light, and without them vision is lost.

The cutting-edge approach being developed in Dr. Monnier’s lab involves preventing the death of these precious cells. He and his team are exploring the possibility of halting photoreceptor cell death to save vision.

Funded by the FFB, this work is anchored in an incredible discovery: there is a specific protein, called Neogenin, which is linked to cell death in those with RP,

As Dr. Monnier and his team discovered, Neogenin is found in larger quantities in the photoreceptors of laboratory models of RP, indicating the likelihood of its pivotal role in cell death. Dr. Monnier’s research aims to block Neogenin’s harmful effects on photoreceptors.

With the end-goal of treating RP, AMD, and glaucoma, Dr. Monnier has developed a molecule that acts on Neogenin to slow or even halt the progression of vision loss in these diseases. The molecule has shown extraordinary promise. When applied to laboratory models of RP, AMD, and glaucoma, it enables photoreceptors to survive and preserves visual function. This is a first step towards developing a powerful new sight-saving drug.

Before you can treat a disease you must understand it. This is what the Neogenin discovery means for vision research: it takes us one step closer to grasping the enormous complexity of the human eye. Not the full complexity, of course. Our eyesight is the product of a multitude of interacting factors encompassing cells, molecules, genes, and more, all amounting to a kind of clockwork machinery that makes sight possible. Neogenin is only one piece of that biological tapestry, but understanding its link to cell death opens new pathways to possible treatments.

At the FFB, we are committed to funding essential research such as Dr. Monnier’s because of its tremendous potential to lead to the development of new sight-saving treatments. Thanks to incredible support from FFB donors, Dr. Monnier continues to make great strides forward transitioning his discovery into an innovative treatment for blinding eye diseases.

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