Stem Cell Researcher Developing Treatment for Leading Cause of Blindness

Sally Temple, PhD

Neural Stem Cell Institute, Scientific Director, Principal Investigator and Co-Founder; University at Albany, Professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences; Albany Medical College, Professor of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics


Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness, affecting 1 in 5 people over the age of 75. As AMD progresses, patients lose the ability to recognize faces or read, they lose independence and experience deteriorating quality of life. That’s why Dr. Sally Temple, a stem-cell researcher studying diseases of the central nervous system, is working to develop an effective treatment for the currently incurable disease.

Dr. Temple and her colleagues discovered that adult eyes already contain stem cells that can be used to make new retinal pigment epithelial cells, the cells that die in AMD. The new cells can be grown in tissue culture, then transplanted into the patient’s eye in order to facilitate sight. Thanks to translational research funded by the New York State Stem Cell Science program (NYSTEM), she and the project leader Dr. Jeffrey Stern, are now preparing to launch the first clinical trials to determine if the process is safe and successful in humans. Their hope is to launch the trial in New York with local patients, but to do this, funding is needed.

“Without NYSTEM, I don’t think this would have happened, we are on the brink of the first adult retinal stem cell trial for AMD” Dr. Temple said about their progress towards the clinic.

A leader in the stem cell field and a winner of the prestigious MacArthur Genius Award, Dr. Temple co-founded with Dr. Stern Stem Cultures, a spin-out company that produces ‘Stem Beads’ which help sustain stem cell cultures and sells them to researchers around the world. This is just one example of how NYSTEM – started in 2007 – is leading to discoveries with potential to be revenue generators, as well as critical medical breakthroughs.

One of the key benefits of NYSTEM has been the ability to attract and retain star researchers, who have created a wealth of basic research and intellectual property (IP), as well as major developments in translational research: applying these findings to patient treatments.

“Stem Cell researchers are now able to develop an industry in NY State, as well as develop clinical advances that will be transformative for human health,” said Dr. Temple. “Our discoveries, supported by NYSTEM, are assets to the state, and ensure that cutting edge regenerative medicine is available here, to New Yorkers.”

But the program’s funding is set to expire soon, and the development of new treatments is at risk of stalling without continued investment to take them to the next level and into the clinic.