Dr. David Gamm has a vision, and that’s ensuring his patients can keep theirs.
A pediatric ophthalmologist and clinician, David spoke at the May 30 Waunakee Rotary meeting about stem cell research underway to treat those with retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration. Both are retinal disorders that cause blindness.
David is the director of the McPherson Eye Research Institute at UW-Madison, where scientists are working on stem cell technology to regenerate photoreceptor cells.
As David explained, the retina comprises photoreceptor cells which communicate to the brain, allowing the perception of vision to occur. When these cells degenerate, they have no way of regenerating, and blindness ensues.
Retinitis pigmentosa causes blindness in children, adolescents and adults, David said, and affects about 2 million people.
There is no treatment, and when David diagnoses this, he talks to patients and their families about how to deal with blindness.
“That’s a very sad thing to do,” he said, adding that it motivated him to start a lab and seek a therapy.
Macular degeneration affects 10 million people, and those numbers will grow as the population ages. Those who live to age 80 have a 30 percent chance of being diagnosed with it.
Researchers at the institute are studying the use of stem cell therapy to treat both. By taking blood samples, they are able to produce photoreceptor cells, those in the retina responsible for sight. They can also use the cells to understand and treat the disease.
Currently, researchers are gearing up for clinical trials, using these photoreceptors to treat macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa, David said.
David said he is one of 180 experts working on the McPherson Eye Research Institute’s multidisciplinary project to restore eyesight.
Still, he said, technologies like this take time.
“We’re at the stage where we’re looking to start clinical trials,” he said. “You don’t have to pay a penny.”
David warned of scam artists promising retinal therapy, noting the science is not yet fully developed, and likely, those who fall for their promises will be hurt in the pocketbook.
“There’s a lot of hope in the research I’m showing you, but it’s early,” he said.
Other News:
President Mark McFarland presented Nick Mischler with a Paul Harris Fellow recognition. Congratulations, Nick!
Guests: Dr. David Gamm, speaker, and his guest, Michael Chaim of the McPherson Eye Research Institute.
Visiting Rotarians: None.
Birthdays: June 12, Alan Langeteig.
Anniversaries: June 6, Howard and Elizabeth Ann Teeter; June 7, Don and Mary Hoffman; June 12, David and Sue Hogg.
Programs: June 6, Scott Russell, EMS director on the Waunakee EMS 40th anniversary; June 13, Club Assembly and Jenny on her student exchange experience; June 20, George Petak, the vote that built Miller Park.
Greeters: June 6, Bob Sachtjen and Troy Salisbury; June 13, Ellen Schaaf and Todd Schmidt; June 20,  Jim Schmitz and Phil Simon; June 27, David Statz and Harriet Statz.