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university of tampere: faculty of medicine and life sciences: research:
Lääketieteen ja biotieteiden tiedekuntaUniversity of TampereLääketieteen ja biotieteiden tiedekunta
Heli Skottman - Eye Group

About research group

Human pluripotent stem cells (hPSC), including embryonic (hESC) and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC), are a promising source of cells for tissue engineering applications, and the first clinical trials using these cells to treat retinal diseases are currently ongoing. However, some major challenges still exist in understanding the differentiation and function of these cells in order to enable their safe and effective translation into a clinical setting.

The main research aim for the group is to develop novel stem cell based tools for the corneal and retinal repair through cell transplantation and ophthalmic in vitro tissue models. Severe ophthalmologic diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) or diabetic retinopathy, severely decrease the patients' quality of life. In the coming years the burden of retinal diseases to the society will escalate due to the increase in life expectancy, and to the steadily growing proportion of elderly people. On the other hand, corneal defects and traumas most commonly affect children and active young adults.

Our research (for references, see list of publications)[HS1]  has demonstrated that hPSC-derived retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells resemble their native counterpart by having extensive pigmentation, RPE morphology, expression of RPE specific genes and proteins. These cells are shown to be functional with the ability to phagocytose photoreceptor outer segments in vitro, to form a fully maturated and highly polarized epithelium during prolonged culture, and to express functionally active aquaporin and efflux transporter proteins typical to RPE cells. Moreover, we have shown that the proteome of hPSC-RPE corresponds well with the proteome of the native human RPE. We also continuously strive for developing and optimizing our cell culture and differentiation protocols towards clinical quality for added safety of the cell products, and for enhanced differentiation efficiency. Our most important recent discovery in cornea research is a novel, efficient and reproducible method to differentiate limbal stem cell type (stem cells responsible for corneal epithelial renewal in the healthy eye) of progenitor cells from hPSC. These cells have a high clinical potential and our long-term aim is to bring these cells towards clinical practice.

Our current research projects are focused on using hPSC for modeling ophthalmic diseases and for studying the functionality of differentiated cells as a cell transplant with combination of novel biomaterial structures. Patient-derived hiPSC offer novel tools for modelling the development and progression of corneal and retinal degenerative diseases. One of the current research focuses is to use hiPSC-RPE technology to study pathogenesis of retinal degeneration, especially related to dysregulated extracellular matrix production and remodeling in AMD. With these studies, we hope to discover new molecular disease mechanisms, therapeutic targets, and biomarkers for the diseases.

We have many highly multidisciplinary collaborative research projects with several national and international research groups joining their clinical knowledge in ophthalmology, cell biology and several different areas of engineering sciences. As an example of our multidisciplinary collaboration is OCULAR THERAPEUTICS research consortium 

Our research is currently funded by Tekes, the Academy of Finland, Sigrid Juselius Foundation, The Finnish Cultural Foundation (Pirkanmaa Regional Fund), Sakari and Päivikki Sohlberg foundation, Mary and Georg C. Ehrnrooth’s Foundation and several other foundations through personal grants for the group members.

Faculty of Medicine and Life Sciences
Arvo Ylpön katu 34
33520 Tampere, Finland
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Last update: 5.4.2017 10.03 Muokkaa

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