Andalusian researchers have tested an experimental transplant of retinal pigment epithelium to develop a treatment for ophthalmic diseases.

Researchers from the Andalusian Center for Molecular Biology and Regenerative Medicine (CABIMER), the Andalusian Initiative in Advanced Therapies (IATA) and the University of Granada, together with ophthalmologists from the Virgen Macarena University Hospital in Seville, have performed for the first time in Andalusia an experimental transplant of retinal pigment epithelial cells in pigs. The surgical procedure consisted in the transplantation of a retinal cell layer derived in the laboratory from induced pluripotent cells and was carried in the Clinical Simulation Center of Granada.

This first surgical test has shown positive results and constitutes the first step of a preclinical study with the goal to provide therapeutic options for retinal degenerative diseases. The work has been led by Francisco Díaz Corrales, a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Professor Shom S. Bhattacharya in CABIMER, and has been designed to treat Age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

The retinal pigment epithelium is a cellular layer of the retina that plays an important role in visual function. This layer of cells is affected in different ophthalmological diseases, such as AMD. In recent years, several international research groups have been working to replace the damaged retinal pigment epithelium by an implant of new cells differentiated in the laboratory from stem cells or induced pluripotent cells. As a novelty, and to facilitate the correct integration of the transplant, the researchers have grown the cells on a nanostructured matrix developed by the Tissue Engineering group of the Histology Department of the University of Granada.

To carry out this experimental cell therapy surgery, a multidisciplinary team has worked together: scientists from Cabimer, IATA and the University of Granada, ophthalmologists from the Virgen Macarena University Hospital along with the support of the staff from IAVANTE and the collaboration of Bausch + Lomb. Funding has been provided by the Regional Ministry of Health (DMAE-Cells Project) and National Health Institute Carlos III (DMAE-Hope Project) and the project has received the support of the Macula Retina Patient Association as part of a long-standing and continuous collaboration of the Association with the research team.

Although there is a long way to go before this type of advanced therapy can be applied to patients with AMD, this first experimental transplant is an important step in Andalusia to verify the safety and efficacy of the transplant of this retinal cell layer obtained in the laboratory by differentiation from induced pluripotent cells. With this step, Andalusia continues at the forefront in the development of Advanced Therapies.

CABIMER, an international reference center

The Andalusian Center for Molecular Biology and Regenerative Medicine, supported by the Andalusian Public Foundation Progress and Health, is a partnership between the Regional Ministries of Health and of Economy, Innovation, Science and Employment; the Spanish Research Council (CSIC); and the Universities of Seville and Pablo de Olavide. Located in the Cartuja Scientific and Technological Park in Seville, CABIMER is a thematic research center in the field of cell therapy and regenerative medicine. It is a pioneering multidisciplinary research space in biomedicine in Spain, since it integrates basic and applied research with the aim of translating the results of scientific work into direct improvements in health and in the quality of life of citizens. CABIMER develops specific programs to seek healing or treatment of diseases such as diabetes, cancer, retinitis pigmentosa and multiple sclerosis.