Gail M. Seigel, PhD, University of Buffalo (formerly University of Rochester) — Published: October 31, 2012
It may sound crazy to you, but the idea for immortalized retinal cells came to me as I was driving on the expressway.
It was the week-end and I was eastbound on Route 490 in Rochester, NY on my way to perform in a concert with my clarinet choir. My postdoctoral advisor had died suddenly and quite recently, leaving me an orphaned scientist at a young age. It was both a personal and professional tragedy that had a big impact on my life. In order to recover, I needed to find the right path for my own independent work.
As I drove, my mind wandered about the possibility of studying immortal retinal cells that would not form tumors in animals (in contrast to our retinoblastoma cells). I knew that we already had a good replication-incompetent 12S E1A-retroviral vector that could accelerate cell division in primary rat retinal cells. Ideally, these cells would be continuously dividing, but non-tumorigenic. Cells like these could pave the way for both in vitro and in vivo experiments of retinal cell behavior.
It took some time and help from my colleagues, but soon the immortalized E1A-NR.3 cell line was established. I submitted an NIH proposal and received funds to characterize these cells and their differentiation potential. The E1A-NR.3 cells were cloned by three rounds of limiting dilution to create a subclone derived from a single cell. I named the subclone R28, as it was developed in Rochester (R) and was expanded from the 28th well of a multiwell plate.
Although the R28 cells were derived from a single cell, the population turned out to be heterogeneous, which only added to the intrigue of these cells and their behavior. I had originally intended the cell lines just for my own use; but as the cell lines gained traction, I soon received inquiries from many other investigators. Everyone who wrote to me had a gene of interest or a line of investigation that could benefit from the use of immortalized retinal cells.
Over the years, it has been exciting to see the retinal cell lines being used for so many different applications — the effects of light, glucose, pressure, neuroprotective agents, differentiating agents and more. I never tire of seeing these cell lines being used for such a variety of interesting and worthwhile projects. Now that the retinal cell lines have been commercialized through Kerafast, they can be easily sent directly from my lab to your lab, along with my best wishes for a successful experimental outcome. You never know when the next good idea may come to you…maybe while you’re driving.
Always be prepared and make sure to keep your eyes on the road ahead.