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The retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) separates photoreceptors from their blood supply in the choroid, and therefore, is responsible for their health. We demonstrated how RPE functions are regulated by interactions with the retina and the choroid. Our goal is to bioengineer a three-dimensional culture model that includes RPE and retinal neurons derived from human stem cells. We will use this platform to screen potential therapeutic agents and determine their mechanism of action.

In mouse models, early transplantation of RPE or retinal progenitors slows retinal degeneration, but later transplantation does not reverse degeneration that has already occurred. We are examining whether the engineered tissue restores vision in late stage disease. In a second approach, we are examining how the process of autophagy may be exploited to reverse degeneration of the RPE.

Current Projects

  • We use fetal and stem cell-derived culture models of human retinal pigment epithelium RPE to study mechanisms of retinal degeneration and examine putative therapeutic agents.
  • We are investigating the role of autophagy in young and aged RPE, and how changes in autophagy might relate to age-related macular degeneration.
  • We use embryonic stem cells to study the interactions of retinal and RPE progenetors with the goal of developing superior engineered tissues for drug testing and transplantation.
  • We are investigating how the new Medical School Curriculum impacts the anatomy course. Pedagogical innovation and integration with other courses are being used to deliver a shortened, yet more effective anatomy course.

Research Interests

  • The retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) plays a central role in retinal physiology by forming the outer blood-retinal barrier and supporting the function of the photoreceptors. Many retinopathies involve a disruption of the epithelium's interactions with the neural retina or its uncontrolled proliferation. Surgical interventions limit the progression of disease, but fail to restore function.

  • The international community of medical educators struggles with how to decompress an overcrowded curriculum. The questions have become what to teach, when to teach it and how to teach it in less time. The problem is especially acute for anatomy. Even though the classical anatomy course is a large component of medical school, residency programs believe their residents come ill-prepared.