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Consortium to Develop New Ways to Treat Macular Degeneration

New imaging technology developed at McCormick allows safe evaluation of new treatments.

Northwestern University scientists are part of a multi-institution interdisciplinary consortium that has been awarded a $6.2 million grant over five years from the National Eye Institute to develop new treatments for exudative age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Exudative AMD is the leading cause of blindness among aging Americans, and the global rate of AMD is expected to double in the next decade due to an aging population. The severe vision loss from AMD is caused by the overgrowth of blood vessels between the outer membrane of the eye and the retina. New therapeutic approaches are needed to restore eye function lost to the disease.

Led by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, the consortium includes investigators from Northwestern’s Center for Developmental Therapeutics, the Feinberg School of Medicine and the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science as well as the University of Nebraska Center for Drug Delivery and Nanomedicine.

Hao F. ZhangEach team and its specialists bring different skills and techniques to the question of treatment of exudative AMD. The consortium will leverage the diverse scientific expertise to characterize and test novel therapies for exudative AMD in animal models using cutting-edge approaches that combine signal transduction and physiology, chemistry, nanoparticles and novel imaging technology. 

Northwestern is expected to receive approximately $3.9 million in funding over the five-year grant period. Olga V. Volpert, associate professor of urology at Feinberg, is the Northwestern principal investigator. The award will be managed by the Center for Developmental Therapeutics (CDT) within the Chemistry of Life Processes Institute.

The Northwestern scientists will design and characterize peptides that mimic the function of natural inhibitors of the blood vessel growth (angiogenesis) that causes AMD.

Consortium investigators will screen these novel peptides for their ability to stop neovascularization in animal models of AMD. The goal of the program is to advance one or more new therapeutics to investigative drug status and a phase I clinical trial. Advancements could lead to future National Eye Institute funding of clinical studies.

The Northwestern investigators and their roles are:

• CDT investigators Volpert and Jack Henkin, research assistant professor of chemistry, have discovered novel anti-angiogenic peptides that can supplement the diminished levels of natural agents in diseased eyes. Volpert and Henkin will collaborate in further development of these peptides to optimize therapeutic efficacy toward AMD. 

• New imaging technology developed by Hao F. Zhang, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the McCormick School, has endowed the Northwestern research team with a novel means of safely evaluating the therapeutic efficacy of each peptide over prolonged treatment periods. 

Sergei Y. Revskoy, research associate professor of medicine, will use ultrasensitive zebrafish models for screening the new therapies for acute and chronic toxicity. 

Andrew Mazar, director of the Center for Developmental Therapeutics, who has more than 20 years of experience in drug development in academic and industry settings, will guide the consortium and oversee the preclinical testing of the new AMD therapeutics as required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in advance of testing in humans.

This translational research study is one of many joint ventures between basic and clinical scientists fostered by the Center for Developmental Therapeutics. The center was established in 2011 within Northwestern’s Chemistry of Life Processes Institute with the main goal of aiding Northwestern investigators in advancing their novel therapeutic concepts into clinical practice.