Sabine Fuhrmann, PhD, Associate Professor, Ophthalmology, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee
Dr. Fuhrmann has a broad background in neurobiology, with specific training and expertise in neurodevelopment. Her long term objectives are to identify novel targets for therapeutic strategies to treat degenerative eye diseases of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), such as AMD. RPE cells support the healthy functioning of photoreceptor cells, while their degeneration leads to progressive, chronic AMD.
With funding from her AMDF/RPB Catalyst Award, in the amount of $300,000, she examined the potential of RPE cells to regenerate in mature mammalian eyes, in a project entitled “RPE regeneration by modulation of signaling pathways.”
“The retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) is essential in maintaining long term photoreceptor survival, with little evidence of new cell production,” she said in her application. “Degeneration of the central RPE causes the progressive chronic disease agerelated macular degeneration (AMD). Besides protective strategies such as nutritional dietary supplements to slow disease progression, no effective cure for AMD is currently available. Recent studies revealed that certain subsets of the heterogeneous RPE cell population in the adult eye may be able to renew themselves, and thus contain distinct properties contributing to regeneration.” By identifying and using small molecule and other novel regulators, Dr. Fuhrmann’s lab hopes to stimulate a previously discovered, intrinsic, regenerative response.
Despite Covid-19-related obstacles, Dr. Fuhrmann reported strong progress: “We and others have discovered specific factors critical for RPE growth and differentiation, such as Hippo, Wnt/bb-catenin, and Hedgehog signaling pathways. Our data so far supports that a combination of a protective pathway with stimulants promoting RPE repair and/or regeneration may be generally a useful strategy for treating degenerative ocular diseases such as AMD.”