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Clinically transplantable photoreceptors researcher recruited thanks to philanthropic donation

10 May 2021

A private philanthropic donation has made it possible for St. Erik Eye Hospital to finance the Karolinska Institutet appointment of stem cell researcher David Brenière-Letuffe. He has joined a research project aimed at generating clinically transplantable photoreceptors (the rods and cones) from embryonic stem cells to be used for replacing dead cells in hereditary or age-related macular degeneration (AMD) of the eye.

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The retina.

A man with short light hair and a dark suit.
Patrik Malmunger. Photo: Eva Tov

"This two-year appointment of David Brenière-Letuffe is financed by philanthropic means. Philanthropic support, whether it is large or small, makes a very big difference, and is crucial for us to be able to do eye research at the highest level," says Patrik Malmunger, Head of External Relations at St. Erik Eye Hospital.

AMD is the most common cause of blindness in the elderly. It is caused by the death of the photoreceptors resulting from the degeneration and death of the underlying retinal pigment epithelial (RPE cells), which provide the rods and cones vital nourishment. A possible future treatment could be to transplant fresh RPE cells formed from embryonic stem cells.

A joint research team at St. Erik Eye Hospital and Karolinska Institutet has been doing research in the area for many years and recently found specific markers on the surface of the RPE cells that can be used to isolate and purify these retinal cells.

The finding has enabled the researchers to develop a robust protocol that ensures that the differentiation of embryonic stem cells into RPE cells is effective and that there is no contamination of other cell types. The team has now begun the production of RPE cells in accordance with their new protocol for the first clinical study, which is planned for the coming years.

Transplantable photoreceptors

As of March 2021, postdoctoral stem cell researcher David Brenière-Letuffe was recruited to the team. His expertise is within pluripotent stem cell differentiation into cardiac tissues. Now he will make use of this knowledge towards the research team’s next effort to generate clinically transplantable photoreceptors, the rods and cones, from embryonic stem cells and use these to replace dead cells in AMD.

A man with short brown hair in a hospital uniform.
Anders Kvanta. Photo: Eva Tov

"Our goal is to recreate lost vision, and David Brenière-Letuffe has a great background in stem cell biology. He is also very nice and we are convinced that he will blend in well with the team," says Anders Kvanta, Senior Consultant at St. Erik Eye Hospital and Adjunct Professor at Karolinska Institutet.

David Brenière-Letuffe will be bridging between the laboratories of researchers Anders Kvanta and Helder André at St. Erik Eye Hospital and Fredrik Lanner at the Department of clinical science, intervention and technology, Karolinska Institutet.

A man with a beard, glasses and a blue sweater.
David Brenière-Letuffe. Photo: Private

"The eye is one of the only organs from the human body that has shown convincing evidence of an effective regenerative therapy to improve an impaired vision. This project provides a unique possibility of testing the therapeutic potential of differentiated stem cells in the eye. As a cell biologist specialised in pluripotent stem cell differentiation, I could only say yes to this opportunity to be part of such a promising field of research," David Brenière-Letuffe says.