National Newsletter March 2016

newsletter

Announcements

++White Cane Week 2016:

The 2016 AMI Canadian Vision Impaired Curling Championship proved to be a very interesting and competitive event. With seven teams entered this year each team had a bye to take time for team building, pursuing individual interests or just relaxing.

 

Competition was strong with everyone playing to the best of their ability. Again Ontario teams came out on top but many teams gave them a good run of defence to keep them on their toes. This year the addition of a Consolation Event kept all teams playing longer and more people at the rink to cheer everyone on.

 

The final results found Team Ontario (Skip Norm Green) winning Gold and becoming the new Team Canada. Congratulations, Team Canada!

 

Silver was awarded to the previous Team Canada (Skip Bill Watson) and Bronze went to Team Saskatchewan (Skip Natasha Achter).

 

Natasha, who first came to this event 10 years ago at the tender age of 13, also received the Most Improved Player Award.

 

All these games were nail biters right down to the last rock, as was the Consolation Event game between NL and NS with Newfoundland/Labrador winning in the last end.

 

Over the past nine years I have seen all teams improving their games so much that any curler can take on many top sighted curlers and really do well – watch out Scotties and Brier curlers!

 

This year the officials choose the All Star Team through the round robin portion of the event on the individual’s performance.

 

The 2016 All Star Team is:

Lead:        Bill Royle   (NL)

Second:    Jennifer Morland   (MB)

Third:        Fraser Hiltz   (SK)

Skip:                  Maurice Colbert   (NL)

Sweeper: Rob Camozzi   (BC)

Guide:       Gloria Anderson   (NS)

Coach:      Mary Malcolmson   (CAN)

 

Also this year a new award was presented in memory of Rose Barber (last year’s Team Alberta) known as the Rose Barber Memorial Award for most inspirational lead. The winner was Joyce Wells who is indeed an inspiration to Team Nova Scotia and all the other curlers. She is always giving us encouragement to make our shot, hold and pass our gear, and to call us to sweep by listening to the sound of the rock to determine speed.

 

The Michael Hayes Sportsmanship Award was received by Jennifer Morland from Team Manitoba. Jenn made a point of spending time with each team to learn their names and ways to remember them.

 

Special mention should be made of these individuals who stepped up and filled in on multiple teams for other players who were sick or injured: Rob Camozzi, BC (for Team MB); Bernard Bessette, NS for (Team SK); Norm Green, ON (for SK); Carrie Speers, ON (for SK); and Michael Hunsley (Ottawa) who filled in for Team CAN, MB and multiple times for SK. These people truly embody the meaning of “Good Sports” and a special award was created for them.

 

The 2016 President’s Award was received by Dalal Abou-Eid on behalf of the Ottawa Curling Club for their great support over the past 12 years. The staff and volunteers of OCC have never really looked at our disability, they saw only our ability and helped us to expand that through the great sport of curling.

 

Most importantly I wish to thank our sponsors and donors for their ongoing support. With this support we are able to compete at both the grassroots level as well as the national level.

 

Last, but definitely not least, I cannot say enough about the care, teaching, support, time and everything else that all of our guides and coaches provide year round. They are highly respected, loved, and admired for their true dedication to bringing us to this level. Please accept a big hug and thank you from all our teams. We could not survive without you.

 

Louise Gillis, Skip, Team NS

National President

 

++Conference Call for Ontario Division: The Ontario Division of CCB is inviting all its chapters to have a representative join an informative conference call on Tuesday, March 29, 2016 at 7:30pm.

The number for the conference call is

1-866-351-5099 and the conference code is 414.

 

++Get Together With Technology (GTT):

GTT is coming to Grande Prairie, Alberta!

Agenda for the First Grande Prairie GTT Meeting:

Location: CNIB Office, Grande Prairie, 229-9804 100 Ave

Time: Friday, March 4, 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm

Theme: Apple iPhone, iPad, iPod – can blind and low vision people benefit from these amazing touch screen devices and dictation apps?

 

Topics:

  • How to use Siri to open apps.
  • How to use Siri for making phone calls, texting and emailing.
  • Learn how to dictate or issue voice commands with Siri.
  • Other useful apps, accessories, and resources for blind and partially sighted.

 

Who Should Attend?

  • Any blind or low vision person, regardless of age, who is interested in learning about the features built-in to Apple iPhone, iPod, or IPad.
  • Existing users of Apple devices who have questions or want to share your experience.
  • Anyone interested in contributing to the future of the Grande Prairie GTT group by sharing ideas for future meetings to discuss other blind or low vision assistive devices.

 

For more information contact Nikita Phillips:

Email: GTT.GrandePrairie@Gmail.com

Phone: 1-780-832-3535

 

++Vancouver GTT is expanding to Saturdays!:

Sponsored by the Canadian Council of the Blind in partnership with Blind Beginnings.

 

The Vancouver GTT program has been running successfully on the 3rd Wednesday of the month since August 2015 and will continue to do so.

The next daytime meeting is scheduled for Wednesday March 16 from 10:00 am to noon and the topic is Windows 10.

 

Based on requests from several individuals, we are launching a 2nd GTT Vancouver group to be held the first Saturday of the month from 2:00 – 4:00 pm. The first Saturday meeting will take place on March 5 and the topic will be the IPhone/IPad/IPod.

 

Both meetings will take place at the Blind Beginnings office in New Westminster – 227 6th St.

Transit Directions: Catch the 106 from New Westminster Skytrain Station and get off at 3rd Ave. and 6th St. If you would like to be met at the bus stop for the short walk into the office, call 604-434-7243.

 

Theme for Saturday March 5: Apple iPhone, iPad, iPod – how people with low vision benefit from these amazing touch screen devices?

 

You can expect to learn:

  • How to use the touch screen to read information and navigate apps.
  • Basic tasks such as making phone calls, texting, emailing.
  • How to type on the screen or issue voice commands.
  • Useful apps, accessories, and resources for people who are blind and partially sighted.

 

Who Should Attend?

  • Anybody who is interested in learning about the accessibility features built-in to Apple iPhone, iPod, or IPad.
  • Existing users of Apple devices who have questions or want to share your experience.
  • Anyone interested in contributing to the future of the Vancouver GTT group by sharing ideas for future meetings to discuss other blind or low vision assistive devices.

 

Important Reminder: Please bring your technology with you to the meeting so you can get hands on help with your tech questions.

 

For more information contact:

Shawn Marsolais                      Albert Ruel

Shawn@BlindBeginnings.ca     GTTWest@CCBNational.net

604-434-7243                           250-240-2343

++A Warm Welcome to the Newest CCB Chapters!

CCB is very pleased to welcome five new chapters this month:

 

CCB Dragon Boat Toronto Chapter, ON

CCB Lewisporte & Area Chapter, NL

CCB Lower Mainland Chapter, BC

CCB Thunder Bay & District Chapter, ON

CCB Trust Your Buddy Chapter, ON

 

++CCB Toronto’s White Cane Week Recreation & Leisure Expo an enormous success!

On Saturday, February 6, 2016, the CCB Toronto Visionaries Chapter, in collaboration with CNIB Toronto Region, hosted the 2016 WCW Recreation & Leisure Expo, an exposition of the clubs and organizations offering access to sport, recreation and leisure activities to the vision loss community in Toronto. With more than 21 exhibitors, representing a huge variety of activities – from Glenvale Players theatre group to Curling, from sculpture classes to Dragon Boating – the Expo drew over 200 people, their families and friends, from across the vision loss community.

Many attendees expressed surprise at the number and diversity of recreational options available to them, and exhibitors had the opportunity to answer questions, encouraging attendees to come out and try something new. Equally important was the opportunity for Exhibitors to share information and feel the enthusiasm in the room, seeing their passion reflected in the faces of those who attended the Expo.

 

CCB’s National President, Louise Gillis was on hand to officially open the Expo, and meet the exhibitors. Louise even spent some time staffing the CCB table, personally greeting many of the Expo’s attendees.

 

Immediately following the Expo, the CCB Toronto Visionaries hosted a ‘Community Social’, a chance to celebrate our passion and diversity as a community. Plenty of food and a cash bar were enjoyed by all, and over $1000 in donated door prizes were awarded.

 

During the Social, Len Baker, CNIB’s Regional Vice-President and Executive Director, Ontario, offered a brief speech on what he sees as the mutually supportive relationship between the CCB and the CNIB, expressing a desire to strengthen and encourage this relationship.

 

Our thanks to Accessible Media Inc for sponsorship support, AMI and CNIB for helping us promote the event, and to the CNIB for use of the CNIB Centre’s conference facilities. A huge vote of thanks, as well, to the many volunteers who helped with everything from planning and organization, food preparation and delivery, staffing the floor as greeters, guides, front of house, coat check, etc. And of course, an enormous thank you to the CCB Toronto Visionaries Executive for their hard work to make the 2016 WCW Recreation & Leisure Expo such a huge success!

 

Coming up in April, our Chapter will be hosting an evening of music featuring the Jack Geldblum Quartet in a show called “Growing Up Television”, a showcase of themes from television shows and commercials. And in June, we’ll be hosting our 3rd annual fundraising 5km Walk-a-thon along the beautiful Beaches Boardwalk, followed by a BBQ. So come out and join us!

 

++The OrCam—Unraveled:

From time to time an item would catch my fancy in a newspaper or magazine, or in later years some remote website dealing with an item that in some way is meant to help the blind and/or visually impaired.      It is only on closer inspection that one discovers that the device currently in question is one under development-­ in other words, a work in progress. It is always interesting, therefore, to follow the progress of such things and indeed see just what does develop. The latest item of this sort that I have come across is now the ‘new kid on the block’ so to speak, the OrCam.

 

This device, developed in Israel and now manufactured in the United States, actually derived in part from some further research related to the coming phenomenon of ‘driverless cars’. For some years now we have had access to various methods of reading print: through the use of a scanner with translating software, and with one method or another using a camera to present us with the print format. All of these assistive devices began in rather primitive fashion, for instance, synthetic speech improved from its monotonal beginnings to its near human-like sounds of today; OCR software that once made thirty or more mistakes in translating a page of print now often goes through a few pages flawlessly. Much of this improvement can be traced to controlled lighting conditions.

 

Many of the mistakes that some of the devices we are now using make are the result of lighting conditions not always controllable by the user. This is where the OrCam comes in. The breakthrough here is that it will work under varying light conditions. It is said to be able to ‘learn’ from the user something of the lighting conditions under which it must work.

The OrCam even claims to be capable of facial recognition, a feature that may well prove to be a boon to some users.

 

Alas, as a totally blind person, I could not obtain training in the use of an OrCam. This is because the user must have enough eyesight to point to an object and in effect ask the OrCam, What does that sign say?    Its camera would then take the picture of the sign, and then read its text to you in its clear synthetic voice, almost instantaneously. Since I could not obtain training in the use of the device, I asked my friend Blaine Ratzlaff, a proud owner of the OrCam, to give me a little help. Blaine was kind enough to show me the device, and to explain some of its workings.

 

The OrCam consists of a small size camera unit that includes its output speaker. The whole thing mounts easily on the arm of a pair of glasses and has a thin cord connecting it to its specialized processing unit concealed in the user’s pocket. The processing unit has but three controls: a power switch that puts it into a stand-by mode, a volume control for the output speaker and, of course, a button that allows the camera to operate. In addition, there is a standard 3-mm socket to accept an earphone plug, a receptacle for its battery’s charging cord, and a USB port to connect to a computer. After just a few hours of training the user can learn and adapt for him or herself to use the device as best suits that user.

 

A question arose as to just what the unit would do. Would it recognize colour, and could it read house numbers? The answer lies in the OrCam’s operation. It utilizes black-and-white images, and its purpose is to read print.

 

Therefore, colour does not enter into the picture– its purpose is to read, not to describe. As for house numbers, it will read them, if the numbers are a clear contrast to their background. The OrCam has a menu that will allow for some of its more sophisticated operation, something that is much beyond the scope of this article. As I mentioned earlier, this is a work in progress, and it is a very complex device. As well, there are improvements on the drawing board now, and users are encouraged to check on a regular basis for updates. Further details, along with a video of people using the OrCam, can be found at its website: www.orcam.com.

 

This is a development that appears to hold great promise in the near future. Let’s keep an eye on it, and in addition, always be on the look-out for anything else coming to our aid through the wonderful world of high technology. As I often hear said: Stay tuned!

–Submitted by Jerome  Kuntz

CCB National Board Member, Saskatchewan

 

++In Memory:

It is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of James Robson, a dedicated fundraiser who worked with the CCB National Office. Before coming to CCB, James was a Warrant Officer in the Canadian military, and also a taxi driver. His friendly demeanour and smile will be missed at the office.

 

++In Memory:

Gordon Frederick Kellock Hope, 1954 – 2016

Surrounded by family and friends, Gord died peacefully at St. Mary’s Hospital, Kitchener, on Saturday, February 20, 2016 due to complications arising from his fight with cancer in his 62nd year.

A man with a heart larger than life, he uniquely touched the lives of everyone he met in his multitude of passions and endeavours.

He will be sadly missed by his loving partner, Lynda Dawkins, his daughters Michelle, Kathleen and Christina and their mother, Erin, Lynda’s daughter Sarah, his cherished granddaughter Makayla; his brother Bill (Linda), his sister-in-law, Deborah, brother Michael (Mary), brother Dave and an abundance of cousins, nieces and nephews. Predeceased by brother Steve and parents Paul and Claire. Gord worked closely with the CCB for many years and our condolences go out to his family.

 

++It’s a Brand New Day at Hadley

To better reflect the diversity of students it serves and how it has evolved over the years, The Hadley School for the Blind announces that today, it has changed its name to Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Founded in 1920, Hadley remains the largest provider of distance education for people who are blind and visually impaired worldwide.

 

“Nearly a century after our founding, Hadley serves a broad spectrum of individuals with vision loss, including those with low vision. Although we will always support people who are blind, there is an ever-growing population of older adults experiencing age-related vision loss who may never become fully blind. As part of our evolution, we are expanding our programs and services to meet their needs,” said Hadley President Chuck Young.

 

The name change also better informs the public that Hadley’s programs and services are geared to individuals ages 14 and up.

 

“The word ‘school’ implies a brick and mortar facility for young children, whereas the word ‘institute’ speaks to education, but defies space and place. The term ‘institute’ is broader and more appropriate for a distance education organization serving 10,000 students in more than 100 countries,” said Hadley Board of Trustees Chair, Dewey Crawford.

 

The term “institute” also provides an umbrella with which to discuss the many programs and services Hadley offers and the many audiences Hadley serves: people who have long been visually impaired and those new to sight loss; families of persons of all ages with varying degrees of vision loss and blindness service providers.

 

In tandem with the name change, a catchy new tagline, “Educating – for life,” will be used to highlight Hadley’s mission to promote independent living through lifelong learning, as well as its dedication to educating students on life skills and helping them reach their full potential.

 

“We love the double meaning in this tagline,” adds Young.  “It concisely says what we do and why we do it.”

 

A more contemporary logo was developed, as well, to illustrate how Hadley has changed, while remaining true to its roots. The graphic represents the braille letter “h,” honoring Hadley’s longstanding commitment to braille excellence. The graphic also is reminiscent of stained glass in prairie architecture, a homage to the North Shore of Chicago, where Hadley’s offices are located.

 

“As we approach our Centennial in 2020, we want everyone to know just how far we have come,” says Crawford. “It’s indeed a brand new day at Hadley.”

 

To learn more, visit www.hadley.edu/rebrand. See updates to Hadley’s website at www.hadley.edu.

–Contact: Sheryl Bass, Hadley Media & Marketing Specialist

sheryl@hadley.edu

                  

++Braille Blast Off: Canada Celebrates World Braille Day:

On January 4th, 2016, Braille Literacy Canada (BLC) recognized World Braille Day by promoting celebrations across Canada. A committee of braille users, transcribers and educators from various organizations was formed to steer these events, based on the theme “Braille Blast Off!” Not only was fervour about braille palpable, but initiatives provided braille enthusiasts everywhere with an opportunity to celebrate the continued relevance of braille, and the significant step forward symbolized by the implementation of Unified English Braille.

 

Press releases and promotional materials were distributed across Canadian school boards and media outlets. The “Braille Blast Off Rocket contest” provided students with an opportunity to create their own “braille rockets” –We are blown away by the ingenuity of all the contestants: the winners will be announced soon on the BLC website.

 

Tactile Vision Graphics generously produced special “Braille Blast Off!” braille bookmarks which were distributed during classroom presentations, and users were invited to download the Braille Blast Off logo on the BLC website to create their own t-shirts and merchandize to “wear their love for braille”!

 

Activity worksheets were developed to teach sighted and blind students alike about braille. In fact, several teachers have invited braille students to talk to current and future classes about braille since then. In BC, sighted students have contacted 3 nearby restaurants and are arranging to have menus brailled.

 

In Newfoundland and Labrador, promotional material was forwarded to “Voice of the Common Man”, a radio station that serves the entire province. Elizabeth Mayo, a braille user, was invited to give an interview about braille with the radio station’s nightline host, replayed several times throughout the month of January. In Regina, Saskatchewan, Ashley Nemeth was interviewed about the importance of braille, and in British Columbia, 8 year old Maggie Were was interviewed by two television stations about how she uses braille in her daily life. These are but a few examples of the interviews featuring braille users that took place across Canada.

 

BLC hosted a teleconference which generated enormous interest from over 60 adult braille users, including those learning or who are considering braille in the future. Based on the theme “Braille in the 21st Century”, it consisted of a panel of braille users discussing braille from a number of perspectives. Jennifer Jesso, a TVI, spoke about the use of braille as an individual with low vision. Marilyn Rushton, also a TVI, spoke about the continued relevance of braille in a technological age. Diana Brent, a braille technology expert, provided a fascinating history of braille technology, and Natalie Martiniello, a Vision Rehabilitation Specialist, discussed the exciting future of braille technology – from affordable multiline braille displays to smart braille watches.

 

We are especially excited about the initiatives that have been established due to the enthusiasm generated by World Braille Day. Blind Beginnings, a Canadian organization for blind children and youth, has since then established a Braille Club where children will have the opportunity to participate in braille related activities. The future of braille is bright. Merci Louis Braille!

 

++International Women’s Day 2016: Toronto, March 8th, 2016: International Women’s Day encourages us all to reflect on the importance of gender equality, to celebrate the successes of women, and to acknowledge the work that is still left to be done. “With women making up more than 50% of the world’s population and often being the main link for the family and connection to the community, there remains a great deal of work to be done to ensure equal rights in all aspects of life,” says WBU Immediate Past President and Chair of the International Disability Alliance, Maryanne Diamond.

 

For women who are blind, access to information, health, and reproductive rights, education, employment and participation in all aspects of the community must be supported to achieve equality with other women and with men. For example, blind women’s access to information is a serious issue, especially health and reproductive information. Just as sighted women want access to the latest health and parenting information, so do blind women.

 

However, unlike sighted women, most blind women do not have access to the array of materials available due to the inaccessibility of printed materials, especially reference materials. Less than 10% of printed materials are made into accessible formats and in developing countries it’s often less than 1%. With the appropriate support and information, blind women are as effective and competent as sighted women are at raising children and caring for their families.

 

One way we can improve blind women’s access to information is by advocating for the universal ratification and implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty. This treaty will allow for more books and printed materials to be published in accessible formats, and for blindness organizations to share books across borders providing access to a wider variety of printed materials for blind and partially sighted women all over the world.

Blind and partially sighted girls also suffer from a lack of access to information, especially in developing countries, where less than 1% of blind girls receive a full education. Most developing countries’ inclusive educational systems do not have the resources or specialized teachers required to effectively educate blind children, which often means the best option available is a specialized school. Families are often hesitant to send their blind girl child to these schools, even more than a blind boy child. This hesitancy is often grounded in both the fear of sending their blind daughter to a school in the city, especially when she is from a rural area, and also from the perceived low value of a girl’s education. Many families are not aware of opportunities that are available to blind girls and women to become gainfully employed and to be fully active and productive members of their communities. Access to information and education are keys to unlocking these opportunities, so we must work to overcome the multiple barriers to information and education that exist for blind women and girls.

 

++METRO VANCOUVER: Survey about the lived experiences of adults with blindness:

Taku Kawai & Andrea Smith are inviting residents of the Vancouver and the surrounding area to participate in a research study about the lived experiences of adults with blindness. If you choose to participate in the study, you will be invited to two interviews, lasting approximately 90 minutes, at a time and location that is convenient to you. Before proceeding with the interviews, they will review all the study procedures, answer any questions you may have, and get your formalized consent to participate.

 

If you are interested in participating in this study or would like further information, please call 778-834-5017 or email takuot@alumni.ubc.ca.

 

Participation in this study is completely voluntary. Thank you very much for considering this request. They appreciate your time. For further information, please write to them if you wish to view their letter of invitation and receive the consent form.

 

Sincerely, Taku Kawai & Andrea Smith

In the News

++Blind artists share their vision:

“Don’t touch the artwork” is a common warning seen in museums and art galleries. But a new exhibit at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is encouraging art lovers to do the opposite.

 

The exhibit, “Sight Unseen: International Photography by Blind Artists”, will showcase the work of photographers who are visually impaired. Originally shown at the University of California Riverside, it’s the first time the exhibit is being shown in Canada.

 

Maureen Fitzhenry, the museum’s media relations manager, said the exhibit will “challenge some of the assumptions that people have about those who are visually impaired.” It will also help mark the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Fitzhenry said the exhibit is a way for the photographers to connect with the sighted world and communicate ideas and realities through their art, while encouraging sighted people to question their own perceptions. The goal is to show sighted individuals how visually impaired photographers work.

 

“Our vision is a powerful sense that can blind us to other senses,” said Fitzhenry. “We end up only perceiving things through our eyes and ignoring our other senses.”

 

The exhibit will feature 100 photographs from 13 photographers. Six of the photographs were printed using 3D printing technology by a company called 3DPhotoWorks. The technology gives the images depth and texture, converting them from two-dimensional into three-dimensional tactile art. The visually impaired are able to touch the photographs, enabling them to “see” the artwork.

It’s the first time the 3D printing technology will be used in a museum exhibit. The photographs are embedded with one to four sensors. When touched, the sensors can describe the colour, the background of the artist and the context of the image. John Olson is the co-founder of 3DPhotoWorks, which started seven years ago.

 

Olson said the process is new for the sighted who aren’t used to looking at length and depth in photography.

 

“For the blind, it’s the first process that allows them to create a mental image that they see in their mind’s eye… When a blind person can make their own determination about an image — without the help of a docent — that provides them with freedom, independence and equality.”

Bruce Hall, a nature photographer, is one of the photographers featured in Sights Unseen. Legally blind from birth, he uses photography as a way to “see things I don’t see with the naked eye. I get an impression and then later I see detail. For me it’s like seeing things twice.”

Hall’s work in the exhibit revolves around his twin sons who are severely autistic. Hall said photography “opens dialogue, and that’s what you have to do, whatever the human rights issue is.”

 

The exhibit is meant to be experienced by both the visually impaired and sighted communities. Sighted museum-goers are also able to interact with the exhibit in other ways through interactive stations, film screenings, taking photos without being able to see the subject, and the display of several tactile ink drawings.

 

The exhibit opens in March and runs until September 18.

By Alexandra De Pape

 

++Nova Scotia scores double gold in Michigan goalball tournament: Nova Scotia swept the 32nd Annual Midwest Regional Goalball Tournament in Warren, Michigan Feb. 20-21, with both the men’s and women’s teams bringing home gold medals.

 

For the men’s team, this marks three consecutive gold medals at the tournament. Simon Richard, Oliver Pye, Peter Parsons, Mason Smith and Yvon Clement defeated South Florida in the finals 4-3. They also defeated California 7-3 in the semi-finals. The team was coached by Linda MacRae Triff and Alcide Richard.

 

The women’s team are celebrating their first ever goalball tournament gold medal. Stephanie Berry, Jennie Bovard, Tarah Sawler and Cassie Orgeles defeated

Quebec 10-6 in the semi-finals and Turnstone (Indiana) in the finals 8-7. The team was coached by Linda MacRae Triff and Cathy Sawler.

 

Next for each team is the Canadian National Championships in Quebec City beginning April 22, where the men will look to defend their national title.

-The Chronicle Herald

 

++How Do Stem Cells Become Eye Cells?

Stem cells have the potential to become any kind of cell. This flexibility is what makes them so intriguing to medical scientists who hope to harness this potential to generate new cell therapies. Over the past few decades, scientists have demonstrated that they can coax stem cells to become skin cells, muscle cells, and brain cells – to name just a few. In theory, we have good reasons to believe that stem cells have the capacity to replace any damaged cell in the body. In practice, however, there are two very difficult questions that continue to challenge scientists. First, how do you get stem cells to make the exact cell type that you need, such as a light-sensing photoreceptor? And second, how do you get these new replacement cells to function inside human bodies?  

FFB-funded scientist, Dr. Michel Cayouette, is focused on the first question. For years, he has been trying to figure out how stem cells become photoreceptors, the eye’s light-sensing cells. The loss of photoreceptors leads to blindness in a variety of different eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.

Dr. Cayouette’s recent discovery is garnering widespread attention because it was featured on the front cover of the prestigious scientific journal: Developmental Cell. The project was carried out in collaboration with the group of Dr. Stéphane Angers, Associate Professor at the University of Toronto. Together, they offered new key insights about how so many different kinds of neural cells, such as photoreceptors, are created during the development of the nervous system.

In order to multiply and generate new tissues, stem cells divide into two daughter cells, which are not necessarily identical: the daughter cells can differentiate to produce various cell types that are essential to proper tissue function. This is called cell diversification. However, the factors that drive daughter cells to be identical or different is poorly understood by scientists. To investigate this phenomenon, Dr. Cayouette’s team at IRCM tested if the orientation of stem cell division impacts cell diversification.

 

To illustrate why the direction of cell division matters, imagine a pizza that is half cheese and half pepperoni. Now imagine that you are going to cut this pizza in half. Depending on where you make the cut, you could end up with one half that is only cheese and one half that is only pepperoni – or, you could end up with two equal halves, which both have a mix of cheese and pepperoni.

The researchers demonstrated that a gene named SAPCD2 influences cell division orientation. Moreover, they confirmed that the orientation of division controls daughter cell fates in vivo. To do this, they studied mouse retinal stem cells that were genetically engineered to express or not the SAPCD2 gene. When the cells are expressing SAPCD2 they divide into two identical daughter cells (i.e., two equal halves of cheese and pepperoni), but when you take SAPCD2 away, it changes the direction that they are dividing and instead results in two different daughter cells (i.e., one half cheese only and one half pepperoni only). These results demonstrate that SAPCD2 controls stem cell division orientation, which in turn affects cell diversification.

This discovery will help researchers who are working to program stem cells into specific cell types of interest, such as photoreceptors, the light-sensing cells that degenerate in diseases causing blindness. For example, researchers are developing methods to generate large quantities of photoreceptors from stem cells to use in transplantation studies. Perhaps manipulating the SAPCD2 gene will help researchers’ efforts to generate pure populations of photoreceptors.

 

–The Foundation Fighting Blindness Canada