Scientists and Clinicians Discuss Regenerative Medicine and Philosophical Riddles at First Symposium on Ocular Regeneration

October 24, 2014

Demetrios Vavvas, MD, PhD, Pawan Sinha, PhD, Michael Young, PhD, and Joan W. Miller, MD, FARVO
Demetrios Vavvas, MD, PhD, Pawan Sinha, PhD, Michael Young, PhD, and Joan W. Miller, MD, FARVO

The first Symposium on Ocular Regeneration: Cell Therapy and Regeneration in the Retina, held on October 23, 2014, drew over 150 participants from the United States and abroad. Co-chaired by Michael Young, PhD, and Demetrios Vavvas, MD, PhD, who also co-direct the Ocular Regenerative Medicine Institute, the symposium was presented in partnership with the Third International Biennial Symposium on AMD.

“By studying the eye, we have a unique opportunity to directly observe and monitor microanatomy and function. This gives us an edge in the field of regenerative medicine,” explained Dr. Young. “Ophthalmology is on the frontier of developing and utilizing regenerative medicine and stem cell therapies for degenerative conditions,” agreed Dr. Vavvas.

Experts from around the world delivered thought-provoking presentations and engaged participants in open-ended panel discussions. The wide array of topics ranged from refining surgical techniques in preclinical models to optimizing strategies for isolating, culturing, and preserving stem cells for cellular therapies.

Speakers explored the fundamental mechanisms of neuronal death in a variety of eye diseases, including AMD, glaucoma, and retinitis pigmentosa. Among the invited speakers, basic scientists highlighted the importance of scientific discovery in establishing the foundation for clinical trials. Indeed, scientists from HMS Ophthalmology are partnering with stem cell company ReNeuron to initiate the first-in-man restorative stem cell trial in the retina, slated
for early 2015.

“The Symposium on Ocular Regeneration was the perfect prelude to the AMD Symposium.”
– Participant

The symposium concluded with the keynote lecture “Learning to See Late in Life,” presented by Pawan Sinha, PhD, Professor of Computational and Visual Neuroscience at MIT. Dr. Sinha’s research addresses a philosophical question first posed by Irish scientist William Molyneux in the late 1600s, which has since puzzled neuroscientists and philosophers alike. Called “one the most fruitful thought-experiments ever proposed in the history of philosophy” by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Molyneux’s problem questions whether a previously blind person, with newly gained vision, could recognize objects by sight that were formerly known only by touch. This avenue of research brings important implications to rehabilitation strategies for people cured of blindness.