Regenerative Eye Research- More Than Meets the Eye

Breakthroughs in Regenerative Eye Research Closer Than You Think

RENSSELAER N.Y., June 08, 2018 – As the field of regenerative medicine has progressed to deliver breakthroughs throughout medicine; leading discoveries have been made in ophthalmology. A recent article published in Cell Stem Cell (Volume 22, Number 6), Regenerating Eye Tissues to Preserve and Restore Vision, written by Drs. Jeffrey Stern and Sally Temple of the Neural Stem Cell Institute (NSCI) and colleagues, reviews major milestones in ophthalmic regenerative medicine to transform the treatment of diverse eye diseases including corneal disease, glaucoma, cataract, and age-related macular degeneration. “The eye has become a focus for Stem Cell therapy,” said Dr. Sally Temple, the Scientific Director of NSCI in Rensselaer, NY. This review highlights emerging therapies such as transplantation of stem cells for eye repair, the use of synthetic biocompatible materials and natural scaffolds with cells delivered to the eye, and activation of endogenous eye stem cells.  While stem-cell based regenerative therapies for eye diseases range from transplantation to coaxing in situ stem cells to regenerate defective tissue, the novel regenerative therapies raise new challenges about how to make therapies available to patients and how the patients’ immune system will respond. Future strategies to overcome these challenges include matching stem cell transplants to patients to mitigate rejection; optimizing cell product manufacturing for safe and adequate supply, and establishing sound regulation to curb the spread of unapproved “therapies” that have caused tragic outcomes. Cell Stem Cell also featured the cover art by co-author Tian Isabel Yangzi submitted with the review.

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About NSCI: The Neural Stem Cell Institute (NSCI) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization and the first independent, neural stem cell research institute in the United States. Headquartered at the East Campus of the University at Albany in Rensselaer, NY, NSCI is a unique organization that produces leading stem cell research to develop new therapies for diseases of the central nervous system such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Age-related Macular Degeneration. NSCI aims to harness the power of stem cells to ease the suffering caused by injury and disease of the brain, spinal cord, and retina. NSCI has over 30 individuals focused on finding new ways to promote nervous system repair and has published numerous articles on groundbreaking stem cell discoveries and their implications for neural disease cures. For additional information, visit

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Students from Averill Park High School visit NSCI labs

A Molecular Biology class from Averill Park High School visited the labs at NSCI. These twenty-one 9th and 10th graders were able to learn from researchers, explore the lab and experience a range of scientific wet lab activities first hand.

Dr. Sally Temple answers questions from APHS students.

Leading the workshop, NSCI’s Dr. Thomas Kiehl describes the class teacher, Averill Park’s Greg Panzanaro, known as “Dr.P” as super motivated “He has tons of energy and is involved in a lot of different educational development opportunities. He regularly engages in workshops with other science teachers and seeks to involve students in those meetings as well. He’s continually developing new materials. He keeps students engaged. The amount of energy he brings to the classroom is amazing!”

Dr. Nathan Boles introduces students from APHS to key concepts in stem cell science.

Because Dr.P’s class handles some fairly advanced material Dr. Kiehl thought they would get a lot out of a visit to NSCI. They would gain some exposure to the lab environment and to some real career paths in science. He and NSCI lab manager Susan Goderie discussed what would best match the students’ existing skill set and simultaneously stretch their knowledge. Dr. Kiehl notes a challenge, “The biggest thing was coming up with something that fit within the time frame and would show them something significant.” Interestingly, Dr. Kiehl shares, the main activity that the students did is something that is routinely one of the first skills taught to NSCI college level interns.

Amber Frye, a University at Albany graduate student, presents vision science for APHS students.

Susan Goderie, NSCI Research Manager, explains the experiment for the students.

The tour began with an overview from Institute Scientific Director, Dr. Sally Temple. Then, Dr. Nathan Boles and graduate student, Amber Frye spoke. Dr. Kiehl explains, “One of the things I wanted to emphasize was the background of the scientists. How did they get interested in science? What decisions did they make? It’s usually a pretty personal journey for someone. ” Dr. Boles discussed stems cells—what they do and what you can do with them–and Ms. Frye spoke about the eye and retinal research being done at NSCI.

From there, students were invited into the lab bays and dressed in official personal protective equipment or “PPE” and performed an experiment involving human cells. They learned from Dr. David Butler about how the human cell lines they were working with were derived from patients. These specific cells were derived from NSCI work with Tauopathies. David explained that the cells were from patients who have the Tau disorder. Cells from these patients were reverted back to an induced pluripotent stem cell (a type of cell that

can turn into many other cell types) and then differentiated into astrocytes, which are the brain cells that help ‘clean up’ the brain when there is a trauma or injury. One of the cell lines retained the Tau mutation and the other cell line was one where the mutation had been corrected. Some of the cells had been swollen just as would happen naturally in response to an insult. After applying a stain to the cells the students used a fluorescent microscope to see the cells’ internal structure: the cytoskeleton and nuclei. They were able to compare the normal cells to the swollen cells.

Steve Lotz, director of the NeuraCell core facility, explains cell sorting.

The group was also introduced to the Neuracell staff and learned about the equipment and functioning of a core facility. They toured StemCultures, the for-profit business that makes and sells cell reagents. They even had a chance to look at live heart cells beating and learn about electrophysiological activity. Also packed into the tour, they were exposed to microscopy, witnessing the equipment and process of photographing cells. After their visit all of the images that were captured from their experiment were sent back with them along with videos of the beating heart cells.

Four astrocyte cultures stained by students from Averill Park high school. The blue stain labels the nuclei while the red stain labels F-actin, a component of the cytoskeleton of these cells.

Looking forward Dr. Kiehl sees the workshop series expanding and working with Dr. P. to refine future students’ experience. He feels that it’s important for young people to see the actual activities of working scientists and to hear about the science from individuals who are developing it. The students can gain the perspective of a real-life laboratory and a more sophisticated understanding of the field.

Dr. P and his students were thrilled by the 2½-hour workshop. He exclaims:

“This is such a remarkable opportunity that your company
has offered as a real world experience.” 

Dr. David Butler explains his work investigating tauopathies and the patient-derived cells the students got to work with.

Stressing the unique educational opportunity, Dr. Kiehl shares, “To hear first hand that this is a real career path. Students might not understand how to get from the lab they are doing in high school to this as a career. To have the opportunity to relate to the people who are doing this, they may be able to visualize the possibility. The advantage we have here is that we have several entities: the non-profit research arm, for-profit reagent company and a core facility that provides services to other laboratories. Students have the opportunity to learn some of the various career paths that follow in science.”