Author(s):Levin LA, Miller JW, Zack DJ, Friedlander M, Smith LEH. Special commentary: early clinical development of cell replacement therapy: considerations for the National Eye Institute audacious goals initiative. Ophthalmology. 2017 Jul;124(7):926-934. doi: 10.1016/j.ophtha.2017.02.017. Epub 2017 Mar 29. Review. PMID 28365209
The National Eye Institute launched the Audacious Goals Initiative (AGI) in 2013 with the aim “to restore vision through the regeneration of neurons and neural connections in the eye and visual system.” An AGI Town Hall held at the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology Annual Meeting in 2016 brought together basic, translational, and clinical scientists to address the clinical implications of the AGI, with a particular emphasis on diseases amenable to regenerative medicine and strategies to deal with barriers to progess. An example of such a barrier is that replacement of lost neurons may be insufficient because damage to other neurons and non-neuronal cells is common in retinal and optic nerve disease. Reparative processes such as gliosis and fibrosis also can make it difficult to replenish and regenerate neurons. Other issues include choice of animal models, selecting appropriate endpoints, ethics of informed consent, and regulatory issues. Another area critical to next steps in the AGI is the choice of target diseases and the stage at which early development studies should be focused. For example, an advantage of doing clinical trials in patients with early disease is that supporting cellular and structural constituents are still likely to be present. However, regenerative studies in patients with late disease make it easier to detect the effects of replacement therapy against the background of severe visual loss, whereas it may be harder to detect incremental improvement in visual function in those with early disease and considerable remaining visual function. Achieving the goals of the AGI also requires preclinical advances, new imaging techniques, and optimizing translational issues. The work of the AGI is expected to take at least 10 years but should eventually result in therapies to restore some degree of vision to the blind.