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Glaucoma research highlighted at VEI symposium

Oct. 4, 2012, 9:14 AM

Vision experts from around the country recently gathered at the 2012 Vanderbilt Eye Institute symposium “Regenerative Medicine in Glaucoma” to discuss the impact that regenerative medicine has on neurobiological diseases.

The biannual meeting attracted nearly 100 people focused on regenerative medicine in the context of neurobiological diseases and the growing importance in developing new therapies in visual sciences as well as other conditions of the central nervous system.

David Calkins, Ph.S.

The intent of the gathering was to discuss the neural basis for vision loss in glaucoma and other diseases of the optic nerve, and how regenerative and rehabilitative medicine could lend themselves as promising approaches to new treatments. However, the event organizer said the advancements could be further reaching.

“Each of the tools we are developing for neurodegenerative diseases of the visual system and the mechanistic targets that we identify can likely be applicable to other age-related degenerations like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases as well as spinal cord injuries,” said David Calkins, Ph.D., Denis O’Day professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences.

“Our great hope is that advances in regenerative medicine in the visual system will lead to new treatments for other conditions of the central nervous system.”

Experts on stem cell therapy, electronic prosthesis (bionic retina), tissue construction, drug delivery and personalized gene therapy were present for the two-day conference. The implementation of a bionic eye is not limited to sci-fi movies, Calkins said.

“The bionic retina is being used in a very limited capacity for patients with traumatic loss of vision due to car accidents or combat injury,” he said. “There have been promising early results that show we can actually teach the optic nerve to understand electrical signals from a computer chip.”

Calkins said there has been success at Vanderbilt using gene therapy to initiate protective pathways in optic nerve disease using experimental models.

“We have made advances in understanding how the central nervous system fights back against diseases like glaucoma in order to preserve function and conserve tissue as long as possible,” said Calkins, who is also vice chairman and director for Research for VEI.

“By understanding self-repair mechanisms, we can exploit those mechanisms to enhance how injured nerves repair themselves. I am hopeful that in the next five-seven years we will make critical advances in boosting the regenerative capacity of the retina and optic nerve and extend those results to other brain and spinal cord conditions.”

The symposium was made possible through the support of the Glaucoma Research Foundation under its “Catalyst for a Cure” program.

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