When it comes to debilitating diseases, vision loss and blindness may not always be top of mind. Yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12 million Americans aged 40 years and older currently live with vision impairment, including 1 million who are blind. Moreover, chronic diseases like diabetes and a rapidly aging population will likely cause an exponential increase in the number of people afflicted by uncorrectable vision impairment, from 4 million in 2012 to an estimated 9 million by 2050.1
The leading causes of blindness and low vision in the United States are diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, and glaucoma. Advanced AMD is widely considered responsible for irreversible blindness and visual impairment in the world. The number of people living with macular degeneration is expected to hit 288 million by 2040.2
Researchers are hard at work developing treatments for ocular disorders such as AMD. While the majority of research and development is funded by private industry, academic research is typically funded by federal grants and contracts. The FY2021 Congressional budget for the National Eye Institute (NEI), part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, was $749 million. The NEI supports vision research through approximately 1,600 research grants and training awards made to scientists at more than 250 medical centers, hospitals, and universities.3
Fujifilm is committed to supporting ocular research and drug discovery programs. Studies show that the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cell layer is the eye’s first line of defense against degenerative diseases such as AMD and diabetic retinopathy.4
RPE cells sit just outside the neurosensory retina and serve as a barrier between the light-sensitive photoreceptor cells and the underlying layer of blood vessels called the choroid. The RPE’s main role is to nourish and protect the nerve tissue of the retina, and it does this by accomplishing three main functions: phagocytosis (ingestion and processing) of damaged photoreceptors, secretion of essential factors and signaling molecules that help maintain retinal homeostasis, and absorption of scattered light.
Developing treatments against AMD, diabetic retinopathy, and other vision disorders requires a deep understanding of basic ocular cell biology and how therapeutics in development may affect healthy and diseased cells in the eye. To support these crucial stages of drug discovery, FUJIFILM Cellular Dynamics provides RPE cells derived from human-induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) – skin or blood cells that have been genetically reprogrammed to a developmental stage so that, when supplied with the right combination of nutrients and growth factors, they can differentiate into any human cell.
iCell® Retinal Pigment Epithelial Cells are a highly pure population of research-grade iPSC-derived RPE cells that recapitulate normal, healthy retinal function. Available in commercial quantities, these cells are produced under stringent quality control parameters to ensure lot-to-lot reproducibility and guaranteed barrier function. This model is particularly useful in high-throughput screening assays for the identification of novel drug candidates or the evaluation of their safety and dosage requirements, a timely solution to the pharmaceutical industry’s increased interest in developing novel therapies for the treatment of wet AMD, which accounts for 10% of AMD cases but 90% of AMD-related blindness.5
In addition, iCell Retinal Pigment Epithelial Cells may also provide a complementary approach to conventional animal models, circumventing some of their inherent limitations such as the absence of a macula in rodents, or the slow disease progression and genetic intractability of non-human primates. Disease modeling via genetic engineering, differentiation of patient-derived iPSCs, or cell culture in specific conditions can be achieved, and is supported by FUJIFILM Cellular Dynamic’s team of experts.
At Fujifilm, we are driven to accelerate innovation and improve human health by empowering the work of life science researchers. We stay focused on the task at hand, and never forget the people who may one day benefit from treatments for conditions previously thought to be untreatable.
3. National Eye Institute Congressional Justification Fiscal Year 2021
4. Yang S, Zhou J, Li D. 2021. Functions and Diseases of the Retinal Pigment Epithelium. Front Pharmacol 12:727870, https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fphar.2021.727870.
5. Ferris FL 3rd, Fine SL, Hyman L. 1984. Age-related macular degeneration and blindness due to neovascular maculopathy. Arch Ophthalmol 102(11):1640-2, https://doi.org/10.1001/archopht.1984.01040031330019.
iCell is a registered trademark of FUJIFILM Cellular Dynamics, Inc. FOR RESEARCH USE ONLY. NOT CLINICAL USE.