Early-career investigator wins award for exosome research

The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) Foundation congratulates Miguel Flores-Bellver, PhD, recipient of the 2023 Bert M. Glaser, MD Award for Innovative Research in Retina. The award recognizes an early-career investigator who has made a novel discovery that impacted the understanding and/or treatment of a retinal disease or condition.

Flores-Bellver is a research instructor in the Department of Ophthalmology, University of Colorado, and a principal investigator at the CellSight-Ocular Stem Cell and Regeneration Program. He is also director of The Human Stem Cells Exosome Lab (ExoSight). His team’s research aims to better understand the early events involved in early age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

“Dry AMD begins with the appearance of drusen, and the lack of therapies responds, to a certain extent, to our little understanding of drusen formation,” says Flores-Bellver. “Our studies seek to understand how little vesicles, called exosomes, secreted by retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) and containing cellular bioproducts, are delivered from unhealthy RPE and contribute to drusen formation and AMD progression. We mimic dry AMD disease using stem cell-derived RPE tissue that recapitulates AMD mechanisms, including the formation of drusen. Under healthy conditions, exosomes secreted by RPE cells are enriched in proteins associated with mechanisms involved in AMD pathophysiology. Remarkably, exosomes secreted by RPE within an AMD environment significantly increased the release of well-known proteins associated with AMD that are crucial in drusen formation.”

Recipients of the Bert M. Glaser, MD Award must demonstrate their work has led to the development of a new drug or technique that will revolutionize retina care.

“We provided the first evidence for a possible active role of exosomes released by RPE in drusen biogenesis,” notes Flores-Bellver. “Furthermore, due to the exosome capacity to travel through different biofluids and since their cargo changes under pathological conditions, exosomes could give us the key to diagnosing AMD early and successfully treating it.”

Funded by the Glaser family through the ARVO Foundation, and named in memory of Bert M. Glaser, MD — a long-time retina researcher, surgeon, innovator and teacher whose life was cut short in 2017 after a brief illness — the award provides $10,000 in funding to the recipient.

“It is a great honor for me to attain this unique award that commemorates Dr. Glaser’s legacy as an innovator and retina specialist,” says Flores-Bellver. “I thank Dr. Glaser’s family and the ARVO committee for establishing this opportunity that recognizes an early-career investigator. This award gives us more duties to improve our work and continue learning how asking the right kind of question in biological research could provide the solution to a problem such as age-related macular degeneration.”

For more information about the Bert M. Glaser, MD Award for Innovative Research in Retina, visit ARVO’s website.


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