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Helder André new research group leader for the retina research group

12 March 2021

At the turn of the year, researcher Helder André was assigned as research group leader for the retina research group at St. Erik Eye Hospital and the Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet. He shares the leadership of the research group, called Kvanta/André, with Adjunct Professor Anders Kvanta.

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Research Group Leader Helder André.

What kind of research will you perform?

"My research is focused on a bench-to-bedside approach for eye diseases, particularly in the retina in the back of the eye. In my research group, we use a combination of investigational (in vitro models), translational (in vivo models), and clinical (patient study protocols) sciences. Primarily, my research is centered on neovascular retinal degenerations, or diseases of the retina where there is an exaggerated formation of new blood vessels in the retina. The newly formed blood vessels often tend to create bleedings that compromise the retina’s function and can lead to severe vision loss. Amongst these, neovascular age-related macular degeneration – or wet AMD – has a high incidence in Sweden and the Western world, and has been the core of my research," says Helder André.

What is the goal?

"In translational science, the end goal is of course to discover better treatments for our patients, ultimately and if possible cures. The combination of investigational, translational and clinical sciences used by my research group allows us to better understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying ocular diseases, and identify possible molecules that can be translated in to new and improved forms of clinical treatment for patients afflicted with retinal diseases."

A woman and a man in a laboratory.
Helder André with Mooud Amirkavei, PhD candidate, in the lab at new St. Erik Eye Hospital. Photo: Jens Sølvberg

Why is it important to do research in this area?

"The cause of many retinal diseases are not fully understood today. Our research plan aims at not only clarifying some of the unknown mechanisms behind neovascular retinal diseases. In addition, we simultaneously are developing tools that allow to translate the new knowledge into future forms of treatment. The manner in which we design these new therapeutic tools are trimmed for neovascular retinal diseases, such as wet AMD, but can easily be adapted to many other diseases including diabetic retinopathies and even eye tumors."

What projects are currently underway?

"Currently, my research group is invested in a new form of gene therapy for wet AMD. The available treatments for patients with wet AMD must be repeated fairly routinely, every few weeks. Our new approach is aiming at a treatment that from one single dose would last a very long-time, hopefully in the span of years. In parallel, we are stating a series of studies including patient samples that will provide the knowledge we are missing in understanding the cause of some retinal diseases."

What is your ambition as a research group leader?

"As a research group leader, it is important to take smart decisions, while simultaneously being ready to adapt to the oncoming challenges in research. My ambition is to create a dynamic environment with my team members, develop good team cohesion with integration of multiple expertise, and be at the forefront of my research field."

Two men in a laboratory.
Helder André with Filippo Locri, Post-doctoral fellow, in the lab. Photo: Jens Sølvberg

What are the challenges?

"Our line of research is quite ambitious and includes multiple disciplines and different scientific backgrounds. Nonetheless, we have established already a cohesive environment with our clinician colleagues and other research teams, which is fundamental for our bench-to-bedside approach."

"A considerable challenge in research is funding and the need to raise money for the progression of our projects. We have previously received philanthropic support that has been crucial to the advancement of our research. Of course, this type of support will continue to be fundamental in the future, and ultimately contribute to the development of new and improved forms of treatment for patients with eye diseases."