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Education / Graduate Education / News / All eyes on vision restoration with latest NEI Audacious Goals Initiative Grant


All eyes on vision restoration with latest NEI Audacious Goals Initiative Grant

Juliette McGregor, Ph.D.

Juliette McGregor, Ph.D (center) with students Zhengyang (Eliot) Xu (left) and Edith Koo (right) working with high resolution ophthalmic imaging system that is central to the AGI project.

Juliette McGregor, Ph.D.

Juliette McGregor, Ph.D.

Juliette McGregor, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of Ophthalmology, leads one of three new projects funded by the National Eye Institute's Audacious Goals Initiative (AGI) aimed at testing regenerative therapies for blindness due to retinal degeneration and monitoring transplanted cells as they integrate with host tissues.

The NEI awarded $3.7 million per year for five years for the projects "that aim to develop models that can gauge the survival and integration of regenerated cells, including light-sensing photoreceptors and retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), which carry visual signals from the retina to the brain,” according to a press release from NEI.

The AGI for Regenerative Medicine is an effort by the National Eye Institute (NEI) to push the boundaries of vision science and restore vision through regeneration of the retina. “By facilitating cross-disciplinary research, we are tackling the most devastating and difficult-to-treat eye diseases,” according to the AGI website.

McGregor will work with a team locally using imaging technology developed here at UofR to ablate photoreceptors and evaluate restored retinal activity in vivo. Her team will collaborate with colleagues from the University of Wisconsin and University of California Berkeley, to transplant replacement photoreceptors into damaged retina as microaggregates and in scaffolds designed to promote integration, as well as examine the impact of photoreceptor loss and restoration of photoreceptor signaling on existing retinal circuitry.

“This consortium project brings a range of expertise to bare on the major long-standing challenge in regenerative medicine – restoring neuronal connectivity.” McGregor says. “Building on developments in retinal imaging made here at Rochester over the past decade we are now in a position to detect restored function at the cellular scale and advance the most promising therapies.  As an early career researcher, I am particularly delighted that my team has been chosen by NEI to take on this Audacious Goal and work toward delivering high quality restored vision to patients.”

David DiLoreto MD

David DiLoreto, M.D., Ph.D, performing sub-retinal surgery

David A. DiLoreto, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., is a surgeon on the team, as well as a professor and chair of Ophthalmology at University of Rochester. He echoes McGregor’s excitement. 

“As a scientist, the ability to collaborate with colleagues across the nation to advance your field is all that one could ask for,” he says. “As chair of the department, I am thrilled we were able to recruit Juliette back here to perform this groundbreaking work and use our world class imaging team to offer new insights into retinal transplantation. She truly is a star on the rise.”

McGregor was recently hired as an assistant professor at the Flaum Eye Institute, and was previously a research assistant professor at the Center for Visual Science.