Retinal Labeling and Imaging for Gene Therapies

Eyesight naturally declines as we age, though research shows more than 2 million people worldwide are affected by blindness related to inherited retinal diseases (IRDs). This accounts for 20–25% of blindness cases among people aged 18–65, with 260 genes having been identified to impact this. Gene therapy has not been around for all that long, though it is gaining traction and progressing quite rapidly as scientific breakthroughs continue to develop. The eye is an effective target for genetic therapy for a number of reasons: it has a privileged immune status (protects against inflammatory responses)  and it is easily accessed for medication delivery. Even further, the retina is especially effective for gene therapy because it can be easily visualized, it does not have lymphatic vessels or a direct blood network for the outer layers, and its cells do not divide after birth. Visikol aims to help researchers to advance these retina gene therapies and has extensive experience with retinal labeling and imaging – in particular through its work with Allergan.

Visualizing Vasculature within the Retina

There is a particular interest in visualizing vasculature within the retina to assess the impact of various therapeutics. This is particularly challenging from an analysis standpoint due to the retina’s complex 3D structural features  – such as branching, tuberosity, volume, redundancy. Visikol has developed solutions for both 3D confocal imaging and in vivo optical coherence tomography imaging data. With advanced imaging as one of our specialties, our scientists have utilized immunolabeling to validate expression of a diverse range of targets in retina tissue and validated the following markers: DAPI/Hoescht, RPE65, Rhodopsin, Cone Arestin, RBPMS, SNAP, Glutamate Receptor 2, GFP. Using the images captured, our analysis team has performed quantitative analysis of target expression within the vessels – see representative images below. Visikol also has also developed solutions for analyzing OCT images, which are quite challenging to work with given the large amount of background noise and difficulty processing images with good quality. Using various analysis methods, such as vessel extraction, skeleton analysis, segmentation and nuclei localization, our team can generate quality representative data.

With IRD related blindness impacting so many individuals at such a large scale, the motivation to advance drug discovery in this space is escalating. As gene therapy swiftly evolves and advances, it presents a promising approach to retinal diseases. Visikol aims to continue the progression of these drug therapies through its skill and experience in the ophthalmology space. Reach out to us today to find out how we can help advance your drug discovery.

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