Drs. Klassen and Yang’s research is directed toward the development of novel therapies for retinal degenerative diseases, specifically Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) and Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD). The primary approach being pursued is the transplantation of human retinal progenitor cells (hRPCs), a stem-like cell found in the immature retina. These cells can be isolated from tissue and propagated in culture. Studies in animal models of retinal disease have shown that RPCs are capable of replacing retinal cell types, while also rescuing host cells that would otherwise die as a result of the disease process.
Current efforts are directed at preclinical studies in which clinical grade human cells are grown and tested for use in future trials, pending FDA IND approval. Work in the Klassen laboratory is currently investigating the molecular mechanisms underlying therapeutic efficacy. Active translational projects being carried out with collaborating laboratories at UCSB and UCD include proof of concept studies, GMP cell manufacturing, and in vivo toxicology.