Gene Editing to Treat Blindness; Wisconsin’s Lost Coastal Cities

Hi WN@TL Fans,


I’m in Montreal this week.  I first visited in 1992, driving my 1988 GMC S15 pickup with a tin topper and my Trek bike in the back.  I parked on the MacDonald Campus of McGill University in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue at the far western end of the island of Montreal, and cycled east towards the city center, past well-appointed suburban homes along the banks of the St. Lawrence River.  Several miles into the ride I left the winding road and slipped on to a bike path that started at the upstream head of the Lachine Canal

For generations the Lachine was a watery artery of heavy industry, a confluence of trade and of transportation. Now, instead of leafy residential streets I pedaled along an industrial waterway nine miles long lined with decaying factories, decrepit flour mills, and rundown warehouses.  The Lachine made for easy industrial archeology:  here and there a rusty lock and dam pooled the water;  on occasion a side slip perpendicular to the canal served a factory; a weedy railroad along the left bank testified to busier days of barges and other boats feeding into railcars, and vice versa.


I have returned to Montreal a handful of times since, each time finding time to bike along the Lachine, intrigued by the slow changes in the waterscape as mindsets morphed and money was put to work on the canal to build a new vision for life and living along its ways and quays. Over the years, some old factories were refurbished and industrially repurposed; more often, they were renovated into apartments, or razed and new residential buildings raised in their place.  The federal government designated the canal a national historic site to remember and praise its long history and to speed its future transformation. 


Yesterday I pedaled a rented electric bike along the Lachine and was astonished by the crowds (on a Tuesday) of bikers, runners, baby strollers and dog walkers sharing the paths on both sides of the waterway.  Now boat liveries offer kayaks and pedal boats for rent.  Now concession stands and bars dot the way, where thirty years ago hardly a bubbler was to be found.  Now new and ever-classier condos gleam while a few hulks of abandoned grain elevators remind both the tourist and the Habitants of the origins and former functions of the stream carved through Montreal.  Now the Lachine has cachet.


In many ways the Lachine tells the same regenerative story of other industrialized streams that flow through cities.  You can go see it unfolding an hour or two away in Milwaukee along the Menomonee River, or in Chicago along the north and south branches of the Chicago River.  You can go see it in a day’s journey to the Seine in Paris or to the Clyde in Glasgow.  


In the same 30-year-span of my visits to Montreal, the field of regenerative medicine has been transforming at places all over the world, but in no place more so than in Madison.  In 1995 Jamie Thomson first derived embryonic stem cells from a primate, and then on 6 November 1998 he announced (from the lectern we use for Wednesday Nite @ The Lab) that he had derived human embryonic stem cells.  Over the following years, decades, and now quarter of a century, researchers around the globe have created technological innovations in biological renovation that help drive advances in regenerative medicine. 


Tonight we get to hear and to see how such applications might help us treat certain types of blindness.  I think the talk will be an example of the several kinds of vision that researchers focus on, and a testimony to what three decades of diligence & intelligence can do.



(August 2) Kris Saha, professor of biomedical engineering at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, will speak on the recently-announced NIH-funded project to use gene editing to treat blindness.


Description:  (From the June 6 news release by Laura Red Eagle)  With new support from the National Institutes of Health, a team of researchers at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery will lead drug therapeutics testing for two diseases known to cause blindness.


Over the next five years, the collaborative project will use the $29 million NIH grant to merge new drug delivery systems with advanced genome CRISPR technology, innovating new treatments for Best Disease (BD) and Leber Congenital Amaurosis (LCA), both of which are currently untreatable hereditary diseases.


The researchers decided to focus on the eye as their starting point because it is self-contained and isolated from other organs as well as for its accessibility, ease of monitoring and reduced likelihood of adverse immune reactions.


Bio: Krishanu Saha is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is also a member of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery (WID). He is co-chair of the NIH Somatic Cell Genome Editing Consortium, and is Testbed Co-Lead of the NSF Center for Cell Manufacturing Technologies.  


Prior to his arrival in Madison, Dr. Saha studied Chemical Engineering at Cornell University and at the University of California in Berkeley. In 2007 he became a Society in Science: Branco-Weiss fellow in the laboratory of Professor Rudolf Jaenisch at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research at MIT and in the Science and Technology Studies program at Harvard University with Professor Sheila Jasanoff in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


At UW-Madison, his lab performs research on pluripotent stem cells, regenerative medicine, disease modeling and synthetic biology. His lab has developed a wide array of engineering approaches that seek to generate new cells, organoids and tissues from patient samples, as well as a suite of gene-editing technologies to knockout, correct or insert transgenes into human cells. He is a Member of the Forum on Regenerative Medicine organized by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and the Leadership Team of the NSF Center for Cell Manufacturing Technologies (CMaT).