Your gift at work

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Growing new organs, new limbs, new eyes? It sounds like the stuff of science fiction. Today, fiction is becoming reality. With regard to the eye, Schepens Eye Research Institute plays an essential role in tapping the potential of this new scientific possibility. Known as regenerative medicine, this approach promises to save the sight and the lives of millions worldwide.

“Regenerative medicine is really the future,” says Charles de Gunzburg, a long-time trustee and supporter of the Institute who was its first partner in exploring this futuristic field. “It started as a dream of Dr. Charles Schepens to find ways to transplant whole retinas and optic nerves. It has evolved into a mission to transplant and stimulate stem cells and the body’s own resources to regrow and repair itself,” adds de Gunzburg, who established the Minda de Gunzburg Center for Retinal Regeneration. in memory of his mother.

“The ultimate aim of this new field is to prolong life and improve its quality,” says Assistant Scientist Dr. Kameran Lashkari, whose research with adult stem cells holds great promise for those suffering from retinal diseases. “The eye is a perfect place to begin.”

Associate Scientist Dr. Michael Young, whose regenerative research has already improved vision in mice, agrees. “Because the eye has been studied so intensely and is so accessible, it will be one of the first organs to reap the benefits of this new approach,” he says.

“And what we learn about the eye, which is an excellent model of the central nervous system (CNS), will quickly translate to other parts of the body, improving treatments for such diseases as Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis, among many others,” says Dr. Dong Feng Chen, an associate scientist at the Institute, who has already successfully regrown optic nerves in mice.

These three scientists and others, supported by benefactors like Mr. de Gunzburg, are reawakening the regenerative capacity of the human eye. “We are committed to exploring the full range of regenerative possibilities,” says Dr. Michael Gilmore, president and CEO of Schepens Eye Research Institute. While many parts of the body (such as skin and liver) continue to grow and regenerate after birth, some of the most critical tissues do not, such as the spinal cord, the brain and the eye. Hence, if they are damaged after birth, retinal cells (which capture light and images) and the optic nerve (which transmits images to the brain) cannot replace themselves. Schepens Eye Research Institute’s regenerative medicine researchers are learning why our initial regenerative abilities shut down, and how to reactivate them or circumvent the shutdown—helping us to retain and restore vision.

“Schepens scientists have already made enormous progress in this fledgling, fascinating field,” says Mr. de Gunzburg. “I was already a believer, but in the past few years, my commitment has grown even greater. It is an amazing feeling to support the dedicated people at Schepens Eye Research Institute who have fantastic dreams which, when realized, could change so many lives.”

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