Ocular Gene Therapy Centre Established at the University of Alberta

Oct 9, 2013 - A $5 million grant from Alberta’s provincial health funder is establishing a Canadian Centre of Excellence for ocular gene therapy research.

Drs. Ian MacDonald and Tania Bubela at the University of Alberta are leading a team of researchers, clinicians, and academics who will work together as the Alberta Ocular Gene Therapy Team.  Their team will test the use of gene therapies to treat inherited eye diseases.

The team’s first focus is the genetic eye disease, choroideremia. This choroideremia trial first received funding from the Foundation Fighting Blindness, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and other non-profit partners last year. This is the first trial of a ocular gene therapy in Canada.

With the sustained five-year funding announced today from Alberta Innovates Health Solutions, the team will continue its work on choroideremia but will also develop its capacity to study additional therapies. As a  Canadian Centre of Excellence for testing ocular gene therapy, this Alberta centre will join only a handful of centres worldwide with this capacity. Again funds from Foundation Fighting Blindness donors were committed to help make this expanded research effort possible.

The Alberta Ocular Gene Therapy Team is currently seeking study participants for the phase 1 trial of choroideremia gene therapy. It is working through the Foundation Fighting Blindness patient registry and with ophthalmologists within Alberta to find appropriate participants. The trial will last for 3 years and will evaluate whether the gene therapy method being used by the team is safe. If so, the centre will continue with further phases of testing.  People interested in enrolling in the trial can visit the trial website. The research team is optimistic that someday, those carrying the gene could be treated before any vision loss begins.

“This clinical trial exemplifies the power of partnerships to move us closer to treatments and cures for devastating genetic eye diseases,” said Sharon Colle, President and CEO of the Foundation Fighting Blindness. “Our community is eagerly watching Dr. Ian MacDonald’s clinical trial – it holds so much hope, for people living with choroideremia and over 1 million Canadian families affected by retinal eye diseases.”

To learn more about the research planned at the University of Alberta, see this video produced by Alberta Innovates Health Solutions.

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