Conversion of Pluripotent Cells to Retinal Cells and Functional Eyes:... Simple Animal Model Systems to Identify Approaches to Treating Human

Conversion of Pluripotent Cells to Retinal Cells and Functional Eyes: Using
Simple Animal Model Systems to Identify Approaches to Treating Human
Dr. Michael Zuber, Assistant Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, SUNY
Upstate Medical University
Pluripotent cells such as embryonic stem (ES) and induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells are the starting
point from which to generate organ specific cell types. For example, converting pluripotent cells to retinal
cells could provide an opportunity to treat retinal injuries and degenerations. However, identifying the
genes sufficient to drive this conversion in cultured cells has proven extremely difficult. We have
approached this problem from a developmental biology perspective. The cells that form the retina have
been known for over a century. We exploited this knowledge to identify a set of genes not only required
for normal eye development, but also sufficient for the conversion of pluripotent to retinal cells. We have
also demonstrated that these induced retinal cells can form functional eyes. These results suggest the
fate of pluripotent cells may be purposely altered to generate multipotent retinal progenitor cells, which
differentiate into functional retinal cell classes and form a neural circuitry sufficient for vision. Furthermore,
the success of this approach emphasizes the importance of using “simple” model animal systems in stem
cell research to understand the basic developmental biology of how target cell types, tissues and organs
Dr. Zuber received his PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he
investigated the role of fibroblast growth factor (FGF) signaling in muscle development. He then took a
postdoctoral position in the laboratory of Dr. Christine Holt at the University of California at San Diego,
where he studied the regulation of retinal progenitor cell differentiation by FGF. After moving with Dr. Holt
to the Univeristy of Cambridge, England, he investigated the molecular and cellular interactions required
for vertebrate eye field formation in the laboratory of Dr. William A. Harris. He has continued this line of
research and is now Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology at SUNY Upstate Medical University in
Syracuse, NY.