New ways of treating retinal diseases

Anders Kvanta researches cell and gene therapies for diseases of the retina that currently lack effective treatments. His discovery that the pathologic formation of new blood vessels in the retina is attributable to the growth factor VEGF has saved the eyesight of millions of people.

Portrait of Anders Kvanta
Anders Kvanta does research on retinal diseases at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience. Photo: Stefan Zimmerman

What are you researching? 

“I’m an eye surgeon and am researching novel therapies for retinal diseases. When I started back in the 1990s, my focus was on a form of age-related macular degeneration caused by pathologic blood vessel proliferation. My discovery that the growth factor VEGF plays an important part in this led to the first effective treatments for neovascular retinopathy. Many thousands of patients are treated in this way every year in Sweden alone.” 

And your current research? 

“Right now, I’m concentrating mainly on cell and gene therapies for other diseases of the macula and the rest of the retina. We’re working with Fredrik Lanner’s group at KI to develop a stem cell-based treatment for another macular disease called geographic atrophy, and at present are preparing our first human experiments. Meanwhile, we’re continuing to research the production of rods and cones from stem cells and how to reduce the risk of rejection using the Crispr/cas9 gene scissors technique. 

As regards gene therapies, we have recently concluded a clinical study with the pharmaceutical company Novartis. In this phase 1 study, twelve patients with the hereditary disease retinitis pigmentosa had a healthy version of the damaged gene injected under the retina. The results will be published in 2023. 

My research group is also continuing its research in my first subject, neovascular retinopathy, under the supervision of my colleague Helder André. Current treatments require repeated injections and the number of patients is large, which is why we’re keen to develop a curative therapy.” 

What do you eventually hope to achieve? 

“We’re hoping, of course, that we can take the therapies we’re developing all the way to being pharmaceutically tested and approved. If we manage this, we’ll be well-placed for using the same approach to develop therapies for many such eye diseases.” 

Text: Anders Nilsson, in translation from Swedish
First published in the booklet ‘From Cell to Society 2022’

About Anders Kvanta 

Professor of Ophthalmology, specialising in Retinopathy at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience 

Anders Kvanta was born in Södertälje in 1963 and was raised in the southern province of Skåne. He studied medicine at KI, graduating in 1991, the year in which he also earned his PhD. In 1994, following an internship between 1991 and 1993 at Sabbatsberg Hospital, he became a surgeon at St Erik Eye Hospital. He completed his specialisation in eye diseases in 1999 and was head of St Erik’s vitreoretinal surgery section from 2016 to 2019. Kvanta was made docent in 1997 and adjunct professor at KI in 2011. 

From 2006 to 2019 he was deputy editor of Acta Ophthalmologica. 

Anders Kvanta was appointed Professor of Ophthalmology, specialising in Retinopathy at Karolinska Institutet on 25 April 2022.