Apr 28, 2023

Budd Tucker Honored with ARVO’s Cogan Award for Advancements in Retinal Therapy Development and Manufacturing

Eye On the Cure Research News

Dr. Tucker is leading the development of GMP facilities for manufacturing clinical grade retinal therapies

Get updates on Eye On the Cure Research News

Budd Tucker, PhD, a highly innovative retinal-disease therapy developer and manufacturing expert from the University of Iowa, received the prestigious Cogan Award on April 26 at the 2023 annual meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) held in New Orleans.

The Cogan Award recognizes a researcher, 45 years of age or younger, who has made important and worthwhile contributions to research in ophthalmology or visual science that are directly related to disorders of the human eye or visual system, and who shows substantial promise for future contributions. 

Ed Stone, MD, PhD, the director of the Carver Nonprofit Genetic Testing Laboratory and a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Iowa, introduced Dr. Tucker for the Cogan Award Lecture, telling the audience how his colleague’s work in the family’s halibut fishing operation off the coast of Reefs Harbour, Newfoundland, prepared him well for retinal research and the building of a state-of-the-art therapy manufacturing facility.

“Budd went to sea when he was 14 and was captain of 65-foot boat and crew of 12 men by the time he was in college,” said Dr. Stone. “It was on offshore fishing trips that Budd developed an incredible work ethic, leadership skills, and the ability to repair or improve almost any mechanical device ever built. He designed and supervised construction of Iowa’s GMP facility, and just like in any fishing boat, he knows where every wire and every tube goes and how to fix them if they break.”

The University of Iowa’s automated cell and gene therapy manufacturing facility is designed to follow good manufacturing practices (GMP), which necessitate high levels of sterility, consistency, and quality for producing clinical grade gene and cell therapies for clinical trials authorized by the FDA.

During his lecture, Dr. Tucker described how a robot-operated platform microscope and robotic arms, in lieu of technicians, will be used to optimize the efficiency of producing cell-based therapies — a process that is otherwise tedious, time-consuming, and labor-intensive.

One of the University of Iowa’s goals is to produce, on a large scale, personalized retinal-cell therapies derived from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC). The iPSC are obtained by taking a small sample of skin or blood cells from patients and genetically tweaking the cells so they revert back to a primitive, stem-cell-like state. CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing is used to correct the genetic defect associated with the retinal disease. The cells are coaxed to become retinal progenitors, cells that haven’t fully developed into photoreceptors. The progenitor stage is optimal for enabling the vision-restoring cells to integrate with the patient’s retina. Because the cells originally came from the patient, they won't be rejected by their immune system.

The last step in the production process is to place the cells on printed, three-dimensional scaffolds to optimize their survival, orientation, and integration into the patient’s retina . Dr. Tucker likened the biodegradable, polymer scaffolds to lobster traps. “The cells get in, but they can’t get out,” he said.

Drs. Tucker and Stone have focused their preclinical research on the MAK gene, which, when mutated, causes retinitis pigmentosa.

Drs. Tucker and Stone previously received research funding from the Foundation Fighting Blindness.

Dr. Tucker began his post-doctoral work in the retinal cell research lab of Michael Young, PhD, at Schepens Eye Research Institute, Harvard. Coincidentally, at about that same time in 2006, Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, Kyoto University, became the first scientist to develop iPSC from skin fibroblasts. He later won a Nobel Prize for the breakthrough.

Dr. Tucker is a professor of regenerative ophthalmology and director of the Steven W. Dezii Translational Vision Research Facility and Ruby Retinal Engineering Laboratory. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in psychology from Sir Wilfred Grenfell College and a doctorate in neuroscience from Memorial University of Newfoundland.