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Duke-NUS and Novo Nordisk to develop stem cell-based therapy for heart and eye diseases
This partnership of up to five years aims to develop clinical-grade stem cell derived cells to treat cardiomyopathy and macular degeneration

Cardiomyopathy is a progressive disease affecting the heart muscle. In most cases, the heart muscle deteriorates and the heart stops pumping blood, usually leading to heart failure. Cardiovascular diseases are one of the leading causes of mortality worldwide, and is responsible for nearly one in three deaths in Singapore.

Macular degeneration is a chronic irreversible medical condition that results in loss of vision because of damage to the macula, a part of the retina’s core. A person starts to go blind when the macula deteriorates. As the disease develops when a person ages, it is often referred to as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is a major cause of blindness in those 60 years or older. In the West, more than 30 per cent among its elderly population have some form of AMD. In Singapore, the figure is similar.

Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS) and Novo Nordisk A/S (Novo Nordisk), a Danish multinational pharmaceutical company, have jointly developed a novel stem cell-based therapy to treat two chronic conditions: heart failure and vision loss.

The partnership is the result of a December 2017 agreement between Duke-NUS and Novo Nordisk that will see funding support for the next three to five years from Novo Nordisk for research at Duke-NUS to study and grow heart muscle and retinal cells to treat cardiomyopathy and macular degeneration. The aims of the research, led by Duke-NUS Professor Karl Tryggvason, are to develop clinical-grade stem cell derived cells for heart muscle, and the retina. BioLamina, a Sweden-based biotechnology company, is a partner of this project and provides access to certain technologies proprietary to BioLamina.

Duke-NUS researchers have developed a novel system for growing cells in chemically defined culture systems that support stem cell self-renewal and directed differentiation of the cells. This much-improved method is also free from animal products and has been shown to form new heart muscle tissue in injured mouse heart.

Professor Tryggvason, who is also the co-founder of BioLamina, adds: “The next step for us will be to assess their suitability for human use in the appropriate pre-clinical models”.

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