Helder André (photo by Jens Solvberg)

Helder Andre

Affiliated to research

Head of Molecular and Cellular Research at St Erik Eye Hospital and group leader for the Retina research group.

About me

I received my Pharm.D. degree from the University of Lisbon, Portugal. My masters and doctoral studies were focused on how oxygen levels mediate protein degradation of the hypoxia-inducible factors. These studies culminated in a Licentiate and a Ph.D., both in Cell and Molecular Biology, Medicine from Karolinska Institutet.

As a postdoctoral fellow, I investigated the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in neovascular age-related macular degeneration, a particularly incident sight-threatening disease. My research elucidated a central role for hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF)-1alpha in this disease.

Following my postdoctoral period, I have been assigned as Head of Molecular and Cellular Research at St Erik Eye Hospital, affiliated to the Karolinska Institute. My group is invested in understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms that lead to pathologic formation of blood vessels in the eye, and ultimately vision impairment.

Research description

Our research has a pivotal interest in discovering how the pathological formation of new blood vessels – neoangiogenesis – affects and contributes to disease. In the eye, neoangiogenesis represents a predominant aspect of many diseases’ progression, and understanding the primordial mechanisms that allow regulation of neoangiogenesis is imperative to understand and cure ocular diseases. The André Lab translates the new knowledge from molecular, cellular and preclinical models, thus developing new and better treatments for many potentially blinding diseases. Nowadays, the key area of the lab’s research is age-related macular degeneration (AMD), one of the most common and rapidly increasing sight-threatening diseases, using both gene and cell therapies. In addition, the lab’s developed concepts can easily and rapidly be adapted to the treatment of many other neovascular and degenerative ocular diseases, such as proliferative diabetic retinopathy, retinal vein occlusions, hereditary retinal and macular degenerations, all directly associated with blindness.

 

Bench-to-bedside studies on ocular vascular diseases

The field is compartmentalized on the pathophysiological mechanisms of eye neovascular diseases between either local tissue ischemia or the presence of low-grade inflammatory reaction. Our goal is to established molecular, cellular and animal models relevant for ocular neovascular pathologies, and our research is developing strategies to better improve the relationship between basic and clinic research. Many of our projects fall on neovascular diseases, where the lab has been a fundamental contributor to elucidate molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying these pathologies and develop therapeutic alternatives based on our discoveries.

 

Sustainable gene therapy for neovascular AMD

AMD has one the of fastest rates of increased prevalence in the developed world, and is estimated to become an immense burden for healthcare systems worldwide, with massive economic implications. Current treatments for neovascular AMD patients consider anti-vascular intra-ocular injections for life, and must be repeated ever 6-8 weeks. Our research has identified a clear role for hypoxia in mediating the vascular growth factors associated with neovascular AMD, including multiple inflammatory cytokines. Our work was pioneer in revealing HIFs as the transcriptional mediators for progression of AMD, and led us to create a bonafide sustainable gene therapy for neovascular AMD.

 

A platform for cellular regenerative treatments of eye diseases

In a collaborative effort with Profs Anders Kvanta and Fredrik Lanner, we have developed a project to study cell transplantation therapies of human embryonic stem-derived retinal pigment epithelial cells in a newly developed large-eyed clinically-relevant model, which benefit the translational value of cell-based therapies in age-related macular degeneration. We have created immuno-stealth hESC-RPE cells that can be used as universal donor for cell-based treatments for degenerative AMD. These has led us to establish a partnership between the Karolinska Institutet, St Erik Eye Hospital and NovoNordisk to translate our cell-based strategies into a first-in-human clinical trial. Currently, we are invested in expanding the human embryonic stem cell differentiation into photoreceptors and developt future treatments for hereditary retinal and macular degenerations.

 

Lab Members

Filippo Locri, Postdoc. Establishes ocular study models and gene therapy for neovascular AMD.

David Brenière-Letuffe, Postdoc. Develops novel ESC differentiation strategies for photoreceptors.

Yesenia Ortega-Melin, MD, PhD candidate. Establishes clinically relevant models for a cell-based treatment for diabetes.

Flavia Plastino, PhD candidate. Cellular and molecular mechanistic studies of transplantation preclinical models.

Jonathan Bernd, Research Resident, PhD candidate. Clinical translation of gene therapy for neovascular AMD and develops clinically relevant in vitro models of AMD.

Mooud Amirkavei, Visiting PhD candidate; University of Aalto, Finland. Unravels the effects of hormetic heat as a treatment modality.

Noemi Anna Pesce, Visiting PhD candidate; University of Siena, Italy. Characterizes the role of autophagy in retinal development and disease.

Özer Demirel, Research intern. Undergraduate from the Bachelor’s program in Biomedicine, Karolinska Institutet.

 

Lab Alumni

Selçuk Tunik, Postdoc; now Associate Professor at University of Dicle, Turkey.

Effat Alizadeh, Postdoc; now Associate Professor at Tabriz University of Medical Sciences, Iran.

Sandra Petrus-Reurer, PhD graduate; now Postdoc at Cambridge University, UK.

Parviz Mammadzada, MD PhD graduate; now ophthalmology Specialist at Örebro hospital, Sweden.

Academic honours, awards and prizes

The Erik and Edith Fernström Foundation for Medical Research Award

The Stohnes Foundation for Ophthalmic Research Award

EVER Foundation Scientific Contribution Award

ARVO Foundation / Genentech Research Fellowship

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