McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine
affiliated faculty member James Funderburgh, PhD (pictured), professor in the Departments of Ophthalmology and Cell Biology & Physiology, is the senior investigator of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s regenerative medicine research on stem cell therapy for corneal scarring. The Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration of UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh recently received a $244,000 donation from the Western Pennsylvania Medical Eye Bank Foundation. The donation, matched dollar for dollar by UPMC, will help further Dr. Funderburgh’s scientific regenerative medicine efforts.
“Our preclinical studies support the idea that stem cell therapy can provide sight to a large number of individuals with corneal blindness,” said Dr. Funderburgh. “The timing of this generous donation provides an extraordinary opportunity for us to advance this research from the lab to the clinic.”
Through experiments conducted in mice, Dr. Funderburgh and his team have found that stem cells collected from the stromal layer of human corneas restore transparency without triggering a rejection response when injected into eyes that are scarred and hazy. Their study was published in the April 2009 edition of the journal Stem Cell.
With the new funding, Dr. Funderburgh and his research team will develop standard procedures for preparing the stem cells so that they can be used in human studies, after first verifying their safety in animal models.
“We have followed Dr. Funderburgh’s work for some time now and are excited to contribute to its future growth,” said John G. Wisnoski, president of the Western Pennsylvania Medical Eye Bank Foundation. “We feel that this research complements our long-term interest in corneal transplant and repair, which we have strongly supported since 1937.”
Under the direction of Dr. Funderburgh, the Corneal Cell Biology Laboratory (CCBL) of the Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration of UPMC, is dedicated to understanding the biological causes for corneal blindness and to developing cell-based therapies for restoration of corneal transparency. Through its work, the CCBL seeks to
• elucidate the cellular mechanisms that lead to corneal scarring and to identify molecular processes that can stop or reverse this important cause of blindness.
• engineer tissue corneal constructs combining novel polymer chemistry with cultured stem cells to provide a supply of new tissue for corneal transplantation.
• identify innovative corneal therapies including direct cell-based therapies to restore vision in scarred corneas or block immune rejection.
• provide a high quality training environment for a broad range of individuals with interest in cell biology-related vision research.
Illustration: McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences Media Relations News Release (08/20/10)
Medical News Today (08/24/10)
Corneal Cell Biology Laboratory
McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine In the News: Corneal Stem Cell-Based Therapies May Effectively Treat Human Blindness/Vision Impairment
Bio: Dr. James Funderburgh
Abstract (Stem Cell Therapy Restores Transparency To Defective Murine Corneas. James L Funderburgh, et al. STEM CELLS, Published Online: 9 Apr 2009)