ARVO 2024: Anand Swaroop, PhD, Friedenwald Award Lecture recipient, talks about lecture and meaning of award

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This year at ARVO, Anand Swaroop, PhD, was awarded the Friedenwald Award Lecture 2024. He spoke with the Eye Care Network about this lecture and what the award meant to him.

This year at ARVO, Anand Swaroop, PhD, was awarded the Friedenwald Award Lecture 2024. He spoke with the Eye Care Network about this lecture and what the award meant to him.

Video Transcript:

Editor's note: The below transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Anand Swaroop, PhD:

Yeah. Hi, I'm Anand Swaroop. I'm senior investigator and chief of neurobiology, neurodegeneration, and repair laboratory at National Eye Institute, which is a part of National Institutes of Health.

My lab has been involved in retinal disease and retinal differentiation work for over 35 years. Primarily, we would like to understand how stem cells and retinal progenitor cells generate different types of neurons in the retina, including photoreceptors or rather, I should say, especially photoreceptors. We also are interested in learning how these photoreceptors become dysfunctional or they die in aging and in disease conditions. And then what can we do, based on the knowledge of basic science, basic biology, what can we do to repair these neurons or treat these neurons or regenerate these neurons? So, that's basically, in few words [what] my lab is involved in. Over the last 20 plus years, we have been very interested in understanding the genetic defects in retinal and macular degeneration.

When I say that neural degeneration as probably all of you know, it's referred to diseases, which lead to the loss of peripheral vision. But later on, you also do central vision, whereas in macular degeneration, your macula is affected initially, and then, you know, it impacts your central vision. In both cases, in fact, ultimately, it is a loss of photoreceptors, which leads to loss of vision. So we are very interested in understanding what causes the death of the cells and can we develop some gene agnostic therapies rather than trying to have gene therapy for individual disease. Can we find something that really impacts many, many different types of patients? And that sort of strategy is going to be much better, in our opinion, in finding pharma or other folks to to develop those, you know, therapies rather than individual gene therapy for 300 plus genes. So along the way, we are interested in learning about how these gene defects lead to cell death. And we are looking for networks, gene networks and cellular pathways, that are impacted, and we are trying to look for common- commonalities in this pathway so that we can target them for discovering treatment paradigms.

In [the] case of age-related macular degeneration, we believe, it's not really my belief, it is very clear that it's a multifactorial disease. In addition to genetics, the single most important factor is age. And we don't really understand how aging contributes to age-related macular degeneration, or how aging makes you susceptible for many, many other diseases, including glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. So we are trying to understand how aging is sort of leading to more susceptibility of retinal neurons. We are also trying to understand how different genetic variations impact gene functions and gene regulation to really lead to pathology of a letter macular degeneration. And our goal really is to define the networks, how these different genes and different pathways talk to each other. So that we can modulate those pathways in some way, without really going after each one of them separately, how we can sort of, in a cumulative way, we can understand the biology, and then we can try to find treatment, which impacts the globally many different kinds of aging and age-related retinal diseases.

I think it was amazing that I shared that podium with my wonderful friend and colleague, collaborator, Emily Chew, both of us, I mean, she is my clinical mentor in some way. She teaches us what it means for a patient. And in fact, I'm her patient as well. I'm enrolled in her study, my father had macular degeneration, and so I am sort of, in that sense, susceptible. So she looks at my eyes every year. From my own perspective, I think it was amazing in some way, because I as I mentioned in my own talk, I grew up with very modest sort of beginnings.

I came to US, and I said, in my talk, I give credit to both of my countries, which gave me a portion that is my native country, India, where I grew up. And then here when I came with almost nothing, and and there were opportunities for us to do, and we were able to do. It's just sort of when we, when we talk about us, okay, you know, we always talk, you know, you have enormous opportunity. Sometimes this is how you make use of those opportunities. And I am incredibly blessed. So I was able to have a wonderful team of students and friends and colleagues and mentors and clinicians and scientists, hundreds more. So I think it's very special for me to acknowledge them, which is what I tried to do in my talk, and along with that show, what we have done in various fields in retinal biology and disease.

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