Katja Schenke-Layland has received the Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) Harold F. Spalter International Research Scholar Award for conducting research into the causes, treatment, and prevention of blinding diseases at the Eye Institute of the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California (USC). RPB’s Harold F. Spalter International Research Scholars Awards enables scientists outside the United States to collaborate with American institutions in the field of eye research. Upon returning home, investigators are expected to apply their new knowledge to the prevention and treatment of eye diseases.
With the award, Dr. Schenke-Layland, who is Professor of Medical Technologies and Regenerative Medicine in the Department of Women’s Health at the Eberhard Karls University in Tübingen and the Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart, Germany, aims to build on the collaboration with Dr. Sarah Hamm-Alvarez, Professor of Ophthalmology and of Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the Keck School of Medicine at USC, with whom she is collaborating since 2005.
„Our aim is to build a human-based in-vitro model of the lacrimal gland, in order to develop a novel stem cell-based tissue engineering strategy to support the regeneration of lacrimal glands that are damaged for example by autoimmune inflammation associated with Sjögren’s syndrome“ explains Schenke-Layland. Sjögren’s syndrome affects today more than four million Americans. A significant subset of these patients exhibits an aqueous tear deficiency, which is the cause of dry eye disease.
On the one hand, the in-vitro model is to be used as a test system, but in the long term, it is to be further developed for the regenerative therapy of damaged lacrimal glands. Currently, dry eye disease is mainly studied in small animal models, which do not reflect the physiological conditions in the patients. Schenke-Layland therefore relies on induced-pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), which she has used successfully in other tissue engineering applications. „In addition, we want to identify clinically relevant biomaterials for the treatment of dry eye disease,“ says Schenke-Layland.
Furthermore, the scientist wants to improve diagnosis of Sjögren’s syndrome-affected lacrimal glands with focus on the early onset of the disease. To this end, Schenke-Layland plans to use Raman microspectroscopy and fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM) as marker-free screening tools.
RPB is the world’s leading voluntary organization supporting eye research. Since it was founded in 1960, RPB has channeled hundreds of million dollars to medical institutions throughout the United States for research into all blinding eye diseases.