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Research Award Winner 2021: Dasha Nelidova

Please introduce yourself. What is your background?

Dasha Nelidova completed her undergraduate degrees in medicine and human biology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. She completed her Ph.D. in neurobiology at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research in Basel, Switzerland.  

You have received the SSBE award. Please briefly describe the project.

Photoreceptor degeneration, including age-related macular degeneration, is a leading cause of blindness worldwide. Repair of retinal neurons by optogenetics—a technology that sensitizes neurons to light by transfer of genes for light-sensitive proteins of microbial origin—has entered clinical trials. Optogenetic proteins are sensitive only to the brightest visible light, at intensities that overwhelm surviving functional photoreceptors. Yet, in a number of blinding diseases, light-sensitive and light-insensitive photoreceptor zones coexist within the same retina. In macular degeneration, for example, cone photoreceptors of the central retina lose their light sensitivity. Surrounding photoreceptors remain viable, and peripheral vision is largely unaffected. A key challenge for new translational technologies that aim to restore image-acquiring properties of the retina is the compatibility of such technologies with remaining vision. We reasoned that sensitizing the retina to wavelengths that functional photoreceptors are unable to detect (>900 nm) could supplement deteriorating natural vision, without interfering with the ability to see the visible spectrum. Inspired by infrared vision in snakes, we developed nanogenetic molecular tools that allowed blind mice and ex vivo human retinas to detect near-infrared (NIR) light.

What does the SSBE RESEARCH  award mean to you?

We are very honoured to receive this award from our colleagues in the biomedical engineering community.

Is this project still active? What are the goals?

Over the coming years, we will be working together with translational researchers and medical colleagues on a number of further studies in order to bring near-infrared visual restoration to patients blinded by macular degeneration. Different features of the sensor and near-infrared light projector system will need to be optimized over the coming years.

Did the award have an impact on your career?

I’m very honoured to receive this award. It is an important contribution to further accelerate the development of novel technologies for treating retinal degenerative disease.

What kind of work are you currently doing? How is it related to your PhD studies?

We are continuing to work on new translational technologies for treating retinal diseases that lead to blindness. 

What is special about your current work?

It depends on what do you call special. From my previous experiences, I guess this is the first time that I work a such an interdisciplinary field. We work with people having a very broad spectrum of backgrounds, origins, and cultures. This helps to have a different point of view according to the subject and seeing things in their globality. Other specialities of my current activity would be to work with human samples. This requires specific care of the samples both according to ethics and safety. Another “special” thing, is the fact that we are working with many different institutes and enterprises. These entities allow us to perform work in a very broad range from basic research to clinical application or even prototype development and testing. This ends up with complete studies having a significant impact on the biomedical engineering community.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I will be completing specialist training in ophthalmology. 

Is there something that you would like to convey to the SSBE members? 

Thank you, for providing the opportunity to students and researchers to present their work. The idea to have an organization at the national level contribute, from my point of view, to help at building professional networks, to see what kind of projects are undergoing in Switzerland and find potential collaborations between education, research, manufacturing and even politics. I found it necessary as biomedical engineering is a very promising field at the national and international levels.


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