Restoring communication, restoring sight: Brightfocus MDR Fellowship success for ECR Yvette Wooff
I was recently awarded a prestigious early-career researcher Brightfocus Foundation fellowship for my research entitled “Therapeutic replenishment of homeostatic microRNA using extracellular vesicles for the treatment of age-related macular degeneration”.
This fellowship has not been awarded to anyone in the ACT before, with only a handful of recipients ever being in Australia. I was awarded $250,000 over the course of 2 years, enabling me to conduct independent research and fund both my salary and research costs for this project. The primary aim of my work is to develop autologous extracellular vesicle (EV)-based therapies for the treatment of retinal degenerative diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
In the retina, EVs are responsible for mediating essential cell-to-cell communication through delivery of molecular cargo, including small gene regulators called microRNA (miRNA) to target cells. However, in retinal degenerations, EVs and their miRNA cargo concentration are reduced, suggesting their loss correlates with retinal cell death.
My fellowship aims to further explore this idea, and investigate if EVs and their molecular cargo such as miRNA can be replenished to restore communication channels required for retinal health and slow retinal degenerations, including AMD.
To achieve this goal, I will explore the role of EVs and their cargo in maintaining retinal homeostasis, and understanding how dysregulation of EV-mediated communication is linked to retinal degeneration. By elucidating this role, and the unique molecular contents encapsulated within retinal EVs, I aim to harness and deliver the “molecular message of health”, to restore homeostatic communication pathways in the retina, and slow the progression of degeneration.
The outcomes of my fellowship will hopefully enable me to identify the essential EV cargo required for retinal health and determine their therapeutic potential, paving the way for development of EV-based gene therapies for the treatment of AMD.
I would like to thank The Brightfocus Foundation and donors for giving me this first step to independence. I am so grateful for the recognition of my work, financial support to develop my ideas, and opportunities this fellowship will bring me.