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What if, with one injection, doctors could turn off the molecular switch that triggers the death of the eye's photoreceptors – those neuron cells in the retina that enable vision by processing and transmitting visual information to the brain?
"It would significantly improve the lives of patients with conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration," says Dr. Philippe Monnier, a senior scientist at the Krembil Research Institute.
"Eye diseases dramatically impact quality of life, and the older you get, the higher your chances of developing an eye disease such as glaucoma."
More than a decade ago, Dr. Monnier led a research team that made an intriguing discovery: when the eye's photoreceptor cells are stressed – usually because of a malfunction caused by an injury or a gene mutation – proteins known as neogenins activate a pathway that leads to the death of these cells.
"These are proteins that will tell your eye how to connect with the brain, and dictate where to establish and stop the connection," explains Dr. Monnier. "What we discovered was a higher presence of neogenin in diseased photoreceptor cells, and we believe that these neogenin proteins are basically telling the cells, 'No, you cannot regenerate – you're going to die.' "
Today, Dr. Monnier and his team of researchers at Krembil are working on a therapy that they hope can stop neogenin proteins from activating photoreceptor cell death.
The Krembil Research Institute and the Globe and Mail have teamed up for a special content project designed to highlight the tremendous accomplishments of our scientists and research programs at Krembil. The first of three magazines in this series looked at the brain and spine program and was released in the spring. A second magazine highlighting the vision program is now available online and a the third in the series will explore the arthritis program later this year.