Jo Huiqing Zhou (Molecular Developmental Biology, Human Genetics, Theme Reconstructive and regenerative medicine) has received two multi-center grants, as the coordinator, for projects aiming at improving patient care and developing regeneration methods for cornea damage patients.
Cornea damage can lead to blindness and severely impair a patients' quality of life. The state-of-the-art treatment is a stem cell-based transplantation therapy that requires cornea stem cells from the patient's uninjured eye to regenerate the transparent cornea. For patients with two injured eyes, this treatment becomes impossible and blindness follows.
The ZonMw Open grant (750K euro), CorneaRegID, is a collaborative project between Maastricht University MERLN Institute, Maastricht UMC+ and Radboud University/Radboudumc. This project uses a data-driven approach to develop a novel transdifferentiation method by converting patient’s cell from other sources, such as skin or oral mucosa, to cornea stem cells for efficient corneal regeneration, thereby restoring vision and preventing blindness. For this, they will apply single-cell multi-omics approaches to identify the precise cell fates of cornea stem cells and cells of the skin and oral mucosa from the same donors. These cell fate maps will guide rational design of genetic modification-free transdifferentiation strategies suitable for transplantation.
Another grant (193K euro) funded by Velux Stiftung that focuses on improving eyesight research in low- and middle income countries is an international endeavor with collaboration of clinicians and scientists in Palestine, Israel and the Netherlands. Part of the project will focus on training of Palestinian ophthalmologists for improving phenotyping and diagnosis, identifying genetic conditions of cornea diseases and preparing for future transplantation. The other part of the project is to characterize and improve existing suboptimal transdifferentiation methods for future transplantation. This project focuses specifically on vision problems in Palestinian territories, but the technology will benefit cornea patients world-wide.