Published: 07-11-2023 13:39 | Updated: 07-12-2023 08:16

KI researchers Anders Kvanta and Fredrik Lanner awarded a SEK 10 million grant

Getty Images.
Photo: Getty Images.

KI researchers Anders Kvanta and Fredrik Lanner have been awarded a grant of SEK 10 million from the Erling-Persson Foundation for a clinical phase 1 trial on macular degeneration, a common age-related eye disease. By transplanting retinal cells from embryonic stem cells, the researchers hope to curb any further loss of vision and ultimately recover lost sight.

Age-related macular degeneration causes a loss of the central vision needed for reading and facial recognition and occurs when the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), the cellular layer that supports the retinal visual cells, dies. There is currently no treatment for such a gradual loss of tissue, a process referred to as a “dry” change.

The Erling-Persson Foundation has awarded Anders Kvanta, professor at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, and Fredrik Lanner, senior researcher at the Department of Clinical Science, Intervention and Technology, Karolinska Institutet, a research grant of SEK 10 million extending over three years. 

Preventing further loss of vision

The grant makes it possible for the researchers to conduct a clinical phase-1 trial as part of the “First-in-human clinical trial on embryonic stem cell-derived retinal cells for macular degeneration” study. 

The aim of the clinical trial is to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of transplanted RPE cells cultivated from embryonic stem cells. 

Portrait of Anders Kvanta
Anders Kvanta. Photo: Stefan Zimmerman.

“Other treatments of the dry form of macular degeneration under development will only be able to slow down the loss of vision,” says Professor Kvanta. “We hope to be able to prevent further loss of vision and eventually recover lost sight by replacing the cells in the retinal macula that are gradually lost with fresh retinal cells produced from embryonic stem cells.”

The researchers hope that their clinical study will show that the transplantation of RPE cells is safe and that the cells will not be rejected. The plan is to treat up to 15 patients with advanced dry macular degeneration, carefully monitoring each patient before transplanting fresh cells into the next.

Fredrik Lanner, researcher at the Department of Clinical Science, Intervention and Technology and the Ming Wai Lau Centre for Reparative Medicine at Karolinska Institutet.
Fredrik Lanner. Photo: Ulf Sirborn.

“Besides the safety aspect, we will use advanced methods to detect positive effects as signs that the transplanted cells have successfully replaced dead cells, that the disease has stopped progressing and that vision has been stabilised,” says Dr Lanner. 

Fredrik Lanner and Anders Kvanta have been working together for ten years on embryonic stem cells. 

A collaboration based on mutual trust

They believe that collaborations based on generosity and mutual trust between their groups and partners are important, and make special mention of the Karolinska Centre for Cell Therapy. 

“As a stem cell biologist, I’ve found it incredibly inspirating to work with Anders Kvanta, because as a retinal surgeon he constantly has the patients on the horizon and understands the complexities of developing such a novel form of therapy as this,” says Dr Lanner. 

“It’s been hugely stimulating for me as a clinically active eye doctor and surgeon to work with Fredrik Lanner and his world-leading research group on tackling a disease that causes a serious loss of vision in so many people,” says Professor Kvanta.

Embryonic stem cells have the potential to differentiate into any cell of the body, opening the way for new types of cell-based therapies. Fredrik Lanner and Anders Kvanta also work with the production of photoreceptive cells (rods and cones) in order one day to be able to treat other serious retinal diseases.