Amir Kashani

Assistant Professor at USC Roski Eye Institute

Category of Humanitarian Benefit: Health and Medical

Short Biography of Nominee/ Background of the Nominee: Amir H. Kashani, MD, PhD, attended Johns Hopkins School of Medicine where he obtained both his MD and PhD in Neuroscience in 2006. He completed an internship at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in 2007 and ophthalmology residency at the USC Roski Eye Institute from 2007-2010. He then completed a fellowship in vitreoretinal surgery at the top-rated Associated Retinal Consultants in Royal Oak, Michigan. During his training, we was awarded both the Heed and Michel’s Fellowships (National Honors given on a competitive basis among all vitreoretinal trainees in the country) during his training. In his clinical practice, he treats patients with medical and surgical retinal diseases including diabetic retinopathy, retinal vein occlusions, age-related macular degeneration and retinal detachments among other common retinal diseases. He also specializes in complex retinal detachment surgeries.

In the laboratory, Dr. Kashani is developing novel diagnostic and therapeutic methods to diagnose and treat retinal diseases. His investigates the use of advanced imaging spectroscopy and optical coherence tomography methods to improve the early detection of chronic diseases like diabetic retinopathy, retinal venous occlusion and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Kashani is the principal investigator for a clinical trial to test a novel stem cell therapy for severe vision loss from advanced dry age-related macular degeneration. The preliminary results of this study were published in Science Translation Medicine in April 2018. In recognition of his cutting edge research Dr. Kashani has been recognized internationally by his peers. In 2016 he was named as one of the top 150 innovators in the field of medical and surgical retina by Ocular Surgery News. In 2017 he was named as one of the top 50 "rising stars" world-wide in the field of ophthalmology by The Ophthalmologist. Dr. Kashani has co-authored more than 40 peer reviewed articles in the scientific literature, several subject reviews, and recently co-authored an ophthalmology book entitled "Optical Coherence Tomography and OCT Angiography: Clinical Reference and Case Studies."

Project Name and Description:
One of the key features of vision loss from Dry AMD is the loss of a single cell layer under the retina called the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). This cell layer is essential to supporting the function of the light sensing cells (photoreceptor cells) of the retina. As the RPE degenerates, the retina’s ability to detect light also degenerates. Therefore, preserving or replacing this RPE layer is thought to be essential in preventing or treating vision loss from Dry AMD. Funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, physicians and researchers at the USC Roski Eye Institute in collaboration with other California institutions have been working on a method of replacing these lost and damaged RPE cells using stem cells. A clinical trial using this stem cell based treatment was recently led by Dr. Amir H Kashani. The goal of this trial was to show the safety and possible efficacy of transplanting a stem cell-derived RPE layer into subjects suffering from severe vision loss from advanced Dry AMD. The stem cell-derived RPE layer is a man-made single cell layer implant that is grown in the lab on a synthetic artificial membrane that mimics the natural membrane found in the eye. The implant is then surgically placed underneath the retina in the region of RPE damage using cutting edge surgical methods. The preliminary results of this phase I/IIa study that were led by Dr. Kashani were published in the April 2018 issue of Science Translational Medicine and the work was featured as a cover article. This clinical trial showed that this first-in-kind bioengineered retinal implant is feasible for use in people with advanced dry age-related macular degeneration. One subject gained 17 letters of visual acuity on a reading chart and two others showed signs of improved visual function. Dr. Kashani and his colleagues are currently planning for a larger clinical trial at multiple centers across the United States to determine the efficacy of this potential therapy.

Humanitarian Benefit:
Dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a progressive and debilitating condition that over time can lead to loss of central vision. It can diminish people’s ability to perform daily tasks like reading, writing, driving and seeing faces. Age-related macular degeneration affects at least 1.7 million Americans and is a leading cause of severe visual impairment in adults older than 65 and is projected to reach 2.95 M in 2020. There is no cure for this disease. This stem-cell based therapy is the first therapy which attempts to replace the damaged RPE layer in the exact region of damage and cell loss. If successful this will be the first treatment for severe vision loss from AMD and one of the first uses of stem cell derived therapies in the world. The use of stem cell derived RPE may also have application in other retinal degenerative diseases which are currently under investigation.