Did you know that one in two U.S. citizens have yet to create a plan for their estate? Just about everyone knows they need to get their affairs in order, but most people procrastinate when it comes to estate planning. It's an uncomfortable subject to think about. After all, nobody wants to ponder their death and what happens to their assets when they pass. However, working with an estate planning lawyer in Charleston, SC, protects you, your loved ones, and your assets, both while you're alive and after you have died. There isn't a perfect time to plan your estate, but there is a right time â and that time is now.
We understand that there is no "one-size-fits-all" solution to your estate planning needs. That's why, at CDH Law Firm, we make a concerted effort to speak with our clients personally so that we can create an estate plan that is as unique as they are. Our estate plans are comprehensive, cost-effective, and catered to you. That way, your family is provided if you are incapacitated or pass away.
At the end of the day, our goal is to make sure that every one of our clients leaves our office feeling less stressed and more informed. Peace of mind is valuable currency these days. Why worry about the future of your loved ones when you can use South Carolina law to ensure their stability?
Many of the clients in Charleston that walk through our doors have significant questions that require serious answers. They're filled with doubt, stress, and worry. They're worried about their children, their spouse, their relatives, or all the above. They ask questions like:
If these questions sound familiar, know that you are not alone. At CDH Law Firm, we have worked with hundreds of clients just like you. Sometimes, these clients are unsatisfied with their current estate planning attorney in Charleston. Other times, they have been served with confusing papers or documents that leave them feeling overwhelmed. In either case, clients come to our office knowing they need to manage what is often a sudden, foreign situation.
The good news? We sit down with all new clients for an hour at no extra cost. We do so to get a basic sense of their situation and help steer them in the right direction. That way, they can leave our office feeling a little wiser and a lot better about the future.
Our firm specializes in several areas of estate planning and family law, including:
At Cobb Dill & Hammett, LLC, estate planning is like second nature to us. Having worked hundreds upon hundreds of cases, we have the knowledge and experience to assist with all the estate planning needs that you or your family have.
As our client, you will always work directly with your attorney. We do not pass cases off to paralegals or junior associates. Because your concerns and questions don't end when our office closes, we encourage our clients to contact us at any time.
Because we limit the number of cases we accept, we have the time and resources to truly dedicate ourselves to each of our clients. Unlike some competitors, we care about the outcome of every case because we know that our clients' future depends on it.
The word "estate" might make you think of a sprawling mansion in the French countryside. The truth is, you don't have to be rich to have an estate. In fact, most people already have an estate. An estate comprises the assets that a person owns like cars, bank accounts, real estate, businesses, and other possessions. Everyone's estate is different, but we all have one thing in common: none of us can take our estates with us when we die. When that does eventually happen, you will need legal instructions that state who gets what from your estate in plain terms.That, in a nutshell, is estate planning â building a framework in advance that names the organizations or people that should receive your assets after you die. Planning your estate now helps make life much easier for your family down the line.
Contrary to popular belief, estate planning isn't just for adults who are approaching retirement age. Estate planning is for everyone. After all, we're all getting older, and none of us know exactly when it will be our time to go.
Although estate planning can be complicated, a well-rounded plan makes a huge difference in what is left to your beneficiaries. Before you start planning your estate, it's important to know a few common topics that may arise as you detail your needs.
Working with a veteran estate planning lawyer is a no-brainer, but you should consider working with a tax advisor too. Your attorney's role is to help guide you through the creation of your estate planning documents. Common documents include your will, health care directives, and power of attorney. Your tax advisor will help guide you through tax issues associated with your estate planning needs.
In this relationship, you make the decisions while your attorney and tax advisor help you understand and think through the options you're considering. As a team, they will help you state your wishes clearly while minimizing mistakes and adjusting your plans as they change. Because significant savings can result from thorough, informed planning, you should seriously consider working with a tax advisor in addition to your estate planning attorney.
If there were one overriding theme of estate planning, it would be maximizing what you plan to leave behind. Thinking through how each of your assets will be distributed is crucial to your estate. Your decisions may change depending on the type of asset, its size, how old you are, and several other factors. With an attorney on your side, you will gain a thorough understanding of what actions you should take to care for your family while minimizing expenses like taxes and court fees.
One of the biggest parts of maximizing what you're leaving behind is to minimize taxes. Federal taxes on estates and gifts are incredibly high. Both forms of taxes usually have exemption limits, which means you can give up to a specific amount without being taxed. Your lawyer can achieve that by using the gift tax exemption to move assets while you are still alive. This strategy maximizes how much your beneficiaries will receive.
Inheritance taxes are often based on the value of your estate and paid prior to asset distribution to your beneficiaries.
The executor of your estate plays a key role in your affairs. Their responsibilities include carrying out the terms of your will and seeing the estate settlement process through until the end. Obviously, such a role demands a qualified person. Choosing your executor isn't an easy decision. The person you select should be great at managing money, be savvy financially, and show an ability to be patient. That's because the executor is tasked with:
If the person that you choose as executor is inexperienced with the estate settlement process, it is recommended that they lean on an estate planning attorney in Charleston, SC for guidance. It should be noted that you may appoint more than a single executor to your estate. This is common when two individuals have complementary personalities or skill sets.
One of the biggest benefits of planning your estate is the peace of mind it brings to you and your family. With the help of our expert estate planning attorneys, you have the power to protect your assets, privacy, and children's welfare. You can also potentially save money on taxes or even avoid probate. By having your wishes legally documented before death or incapacity, you can minimize any impact on your beneficiaries and take control of your legacy. Without a comprehensive estate plan, you're leaving the future of your loved ones in the hands of the South Carolina court system.
With an estate plan in place, you can plan for incapacity by using a power of attorney or advanced medical directives. Doing so relieves your loved ones of the burden of asking the court for the authority to fulfill your wishes.
At CDH Law Firm, we are committed to helping you prepare for both the expected and unexpected through years of experience and a fierce dedication to our clients. From establishing trusts to designing business succession plans, we are here to fight for you.
If a husband and wife each purchase reciprocating will packages we give a discount. Reciprocating just means the husband names the wife and the wife names the husband. Those four documents are:
As mentioned above, everyone's estate planning needs will be different. However, most plans include one or more of the following documents:
Your will is an essential piece of documentation and is often considered the cornerstone of a proper estate plan. Generally speaking, your will is a document that dictates the distribution of your assets after your death. Having an iron-clad will is one of the best ways to make sure that your wishes are communicated clearly. As is the case with most estate planning, it is highly recommended that you work with an estate planning attorney in Charleston, SC, to create and update your will.
The contents of a will typically include:
Without a will in place, the State of South Carolina will decide how to distribute assets to your beneficiaries. Allowing the state to distribute your assets is often an unfavorable route to take, since the settlement process may not include what you had in mind for your survivors. Having a will drafted that reflects your wishes will prevent such a situation from happening.
Despite its name, a living will does not instruct your survivors on what assets go where. Also called an advanced directive, your living will allows you to state your end-of-life medical wishes if you have become unable to communicate. This important document provides guidance to family members and doctors and solidifies certain issues like whether you should be resuscitated after an accident.
For example, it's common to direct that palliative care (care to decrease pain and suffering) always be administered if needed. Conversely, you may state that certain measures are not allowed, like CPR.
Traditionally, a trust is used to minimize estate taxes and maximize other benefits as part of a well-rounded estate plan. This fiduciary agreement lets a trustee hold your assets on behalf of your beneficiaries. There are many ways to arrange a trust to specify when and how your assets are distributed.
With a trust in place, your beneficiaries can avoid going to probate. That means they may be able to gain access to your assets quicker than when they are transferred with a standard will. Assets placed in a trust can pass outside of probate, which will save you and your family time, money, and stress.
There are two distinct trust categories that you should be aware of: revocable and irrevocable.
Also called a living trust, a revocable trust helps assets circumvent probate. With this trust, you can control your assets while you are still alive. These trusts are flexible and may be dissolved at any point in time. This type of trust becomes irrevocable upon your death. Revocable trusts can help you avoid the pitfalls of probate but be aware that they are usually still taxable.
This kind of trust transfers assets out of your estate so that they are not taxed and do not have to go through probate. However, once an irrevocable trust has been executed, it may not be altered. That means that once you establish this kind of trust, you lose control of its assets and cannot dissolve the trust. If your primary goal is to avoid taxes on your estate, setting up an irrevocable could be a wise choice.
When drafted with the help of an estate planning lawyer in Charleston, SC, your trust can also:
If you know that you need to provide for your family and loved ones after your death, it's time to develop your estate plan. With CDH Law Firm by your side, planning your estate doesn't have to be difficult. However, it does need to be accurate and executed exactly to your wishes â something that we have been helping clients achieve for years. Don't leave your legacy up to chance â contact our office today and secure your future generations.CONTACT US
Before new treatments can reach the clinic, they must be tested in clinical trials to see if they are safe and effective. Trials that do not enroll enough participants present roadblocks for advancing care to the clinic because they offer no scientific insight, waste money and time and inflate the costs of new treatments.Improving clinical trial efficiency – ensuring robust patient enrollment while minimizing costs and waste – is a high priority for the Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) consortium, which ser...
Before new treatments can reach the clinic, they must be tested in clinical trials to see if they are safe and effective. Trials that do not enroll enough participants present roadblocks for advancing care to the clinic because they offer no scientific insight, waste money and time and inflate the costs of new treatments.
Improving clinical trial efficiency – ensuring robust patient enrollment while minimizing costs and waste – is a high priority for the Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) consortium, which serves as a laboratory for testing new ways to speed the translation of care into the clinic.
In a recent article in the Journal of Clinical and Translational Science (JCTS), a team at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), which is the academic home of the South Carolina Clinical & Translational Research (SCTR) Institute, describes an integrated tool that is helping them to track clinical trial enrollment and cost effectiveness across the MUSC Health System. The tool integrates a commercial clinical trial management system (CTMS), with the MUSC-created Research Integrated Network of Systems (RINS), which tracks study-level data across otherwise siloed systems. The integration enables study teams, administrators and evaluators to ensure that the trials are the best fit for the enterprise and to track the progress of their studies.
“We needed a platform where we could track all of our studies that were recruiting patients, all the patients who were enrolled in research and whether they were also clinical patients at MUSC." -- Royce Sampson
“We needed a platform where we could track all of our studies that were recruiting patients, all the patients who were enrolled in research and whether they were also clinical patients at MUSC. Additionally, bringing a clinical trials management system into RINS will allow us to really look at financials, particularly for industry trials,” said Royce Sampson, lead author of the JCTS article. Sampson is the director of the Office of Clinical Research (OCR) and chief operations officer and associate director of SCTR.
RINS was created by SCTR and the Biomedical Informatics Center (BMIC) team to capture protocol-level data across systems. None of the existing systems were capturing patient associations, so a CTMS was identified to fill that gap. Integrating a CTMS provided the missing piece of the puzzle, according to Jillian Harvey, Ph.D., senior author of the JCTS article. Harvey is the evaluation director for SCTR and an associate professor in the College of Health Professions.
“In the past, we’ve had challenges accessing the data needed to track clinical trial metrics,” said Harvey. “CTMS/RINS allows us to get our hands around tracking and reporting our outcomes and being efficient with our data and evaluation.”
“In the past, we’ve had challenges accessing the data needed to track clinical trial metrics. CTMS/RINS allows us to get our hands around tracking and reporting our outcomes and being efficient with our data and evaluation.” -- Jillian Harvey, Ph.D.
Previously, tracking clinical trial metrics too often meant manually pulling and calculating data. Teams would pass on whatever data sets they had. Leila Forney, DNP, an associate director in the OCR, recalls the arduous job of pulling together data for a CTSA grant renewal, which took nine months. Now, the process is much easier.
“Having an electronic platform for clinical trial data really helps you think about the metrics you’re seeing and determine where you can make improvements,” said Forney. “It also helps us ensure that the data is accurate.”
The implementation of the CTMS was led by Steve Shapiro.
The newly integrated tool also aids MUSC researchers in choosing the appropriate trials and right-sizing them – setting a realistic enrollment goal – for the institution.
“CTMS/RINS is helping us take an even more informed approach to the trials that we’re selecting, where we’re placing them, where the greatest needs are and where the gaps are,” said Signe Denmark, an associate director in the OCR. “We’re becoming better overall at knowing what our clinical trial portfolio looks like and how we manage it.”
With the enterprise’s recent expansion into more South Carolina counties as part of MUSC Health’s Regional Health Network (RHN), financial and patient accrual data available through CTMS/RINS can help clinical research leaders to select not just the right trials but the right location for those trials.
“We’re exploring how we can offer more research opportunities to these rural communities,” said Sampson. “People in Florence, Marion, Lancaster and Chester counties live hundreds of miles from the nearest academic medical center or cancer treatment center, where clinical trials are typically offered. The CTMS/RINS integration could help us to select the appropriate trials to bring to them. That’s going to be the innovation.”
The integration also standardizes data collection across study teams and primes them to continue updating their data.
“With a system like a clinical trials management system, when study teams start using this as a main source to track their study, they are responsible for keeping their information updated. So, it’s more transparent, too,” said Wenjun He, Ph.D., research assistant professor at BMIC.
MUSC can report these performance metrics to the trial sponsors, giving the institution’s study teams a competitive edge.
“CTMS/RINS is helping us take an even more informed approach to the trials that we’re selecting, where we’re placing them, where the greatest needs are and where the gaps are.” -- Signe Denmark
Early adopters of CTMS/RINS were the OCR, which used it to launch and track COVID-19 clinical trials, and the Hollings Cancer Center (HCC) Clinical Trials Office.
“Hollings Cancer Center began using the new clinical trials management system in the Fall of 2020 to maintain all study- and patient-level data,” said Tricia Bentz, administrative director for the Clinical Trials Office at HCC. “The CTMS/RINS integration has improved the data quality of study details within institutional systems and generated new efficiencies and work tools for management and staff. The integrated data structure is a promising foundation for real-time reporting and support of data-driven strategic planning.”
Since March, all new study teams have been required to enroll their studies into the new CTMS. This process will be ongoing and supported by OCR staff. Continuous improvements will be made to MUSC’s CTMS/RINS integration. Plans are already underway to take it to the next level and create dashboards to provide transparent, easily accessible data to support study teams, explained Sampson.
The CTMS/RINS integration will not only benefit MUSC’s clinical trials but could also provide a model for CTSAs nationwide, albeit one that would need to be tailored to each institution’s particular data ecosystem.
“It’s in the core of our mission to make the process from discovery to population impact faster and more efficient, with better outcomes,” said Harvey. “This just rolls into the mission of the CTSA as an area we need to look at.”
Sampson, R., Shapiro, S., He, W., Denmark, S., Kirchoff, K., Hutson, K., . . . Harvey, J. (2022). An integrated approach to improve clinical trial efficiency: Linking a clinical trial management system into the Research Integrated Network of Systems. Journal of Clinical and Translational Science,6(1), E63. doi:10.1017/cts.2022.382
Sydney Bollinger Sydney Bollinger is the special projects coordinator for the South Carolina Clinical & Translational Research Institute at MUSC.
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Teachers are leaving public education in droves. The latest data compiled by SC for Ed, a teacher advocacy group, shows more than 3,400 open positions across the state.As of June 12, that number is closer to 650 for just the Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester District Two school districts.Vacancies by district:*Source: SC for EdThe number of teachers leaving year over year is starting to level out, however.This year the three districts show a 10.4% turnover rate on average, down f...
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Teachers are leaving public education in droves. The latest data compiled by SC for Ed, a teacher advocacy group, shows more than 3,400 open positions across the state.
As of June 12, that number is closer to 650 for just the Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester District Two school districts.
Vacancies by district:
*Source: SC for Ed
The number of teachers leaving year over year is starting to level out, however.
This year the three districts show a 10.4% turnover rate on average, down from an average of 12.5 percent last year. However, the number of teachers fleeing public education (and education in general) is concerning for advocates who have been pushing state leaders to dedicate more resources to educators at every level.
Abby Watson is among those leaving the Charleston County School District this year. She worked at Goodwin Elementary for a year before deciding to leave.
She says keeping up with ever-evolving district initiatives did not give her the feeling of stability. Specifically, she mentioned the plan to merge Goodwin Elementary with Lambs and Hunley Park in the next few years.
“There was a lot of uncertainty for my job,” Watson said. “We would have to reapply and all of that. It kind of freaked me out so I wanted to start looking, just in case, to have some security.”
She says the primary motivator for her was to move to a district that more aligns with her values. She is now set to start teaching second grade at a private Catholic school in West Ashley.
“They provide a little bit more freedom for the teachers as well,” Watson said. “It’s not so scripted. We can kind of take what the suggested curriculum is and make it into our own and provide what I think is sometimes a better education.”
The idea of large school districts across the state being out of touch with their employees and constantly implementing changing strategies is not a new criticism. Sydney Van Bulck, another teacher at Goodwin this year, says the expectations put on teachers are unrealistic.
“For educators, it’s a lack of respect,” Van Bulck said. “It’s a lack of funding. Really the system is being pitted against teachers. Morale is low, pay is low and it’s all kind of compacting together.”
“I think the public schools have a lot of really great programs, but I think there’s a lot of pressure to teach to the test,” Watson said. “We have to make sure that we get our scores up and have to make sure that everything is perfect and it’s ultimately too much. I can’t handle the pressure.”
Unlike Watson, Van Bulck is leaving education entirely. While Watson is leaving to find a job with a better culture and more security, Van Bulck’s reason for leaving, like so many others, is financial.
“The ultimate reason that made me make the decision was the pay,” Van Bulck said. “With the housing crisis in Charleston the way that it is right now and as a single person living here on my own, I can’t afford housing and be a teacher here in Charleston.”
While pay is routinely cited as a top reason teachers leave, the turnover data does not necessarily support the idea that starting pay is the most important factor. The Charleston County School District has the highest starting salary and the highest turnover rate.
Starting salary by district:
*Source: SC for Ed
Cost of living seems to be the determining factor when weighed against starting pay. According to BestPlaces.net, Berkeley County has the lowest cost of living, followed by Dorchester and then Charleston counties.
The Charleston County School District has several programs designed to retrain and recruit teachers. You can find more on some of those programs here:
Copyright 2022 WCSC. All rights reserved.
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The City of Charleston is reviewing its animal cruelty rules and is expected to present new guidelines to the city council that, among other things, would make tethering illegal.Tethering is the practice of tying up an animal to restrict its ability to move.The exact language of any proposal has not yet been released, but the idea has some traction with people like Virginia Ellison.She started an online petition before she knew the city was working on making tethering illegal. She says leaving d...
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The City of Charleston is reviewing its animal cruelty rules and is expected to present new guidelines to the city council that, among other things, would make tethering illegal.
Tethering is the practice of tying up an animal to restrict its ability to move.
The exact language of any proposal has not yet been released, but the idea has some traction with people like Virginia Ellison.
She started an online petition before she knew the city was working on making tethering illegal. She says leaving dogs tied up outside in hundred-degree temperatures is animal cruelty.
“I thought that chaining animals in Charleston was already illegal and considered inhumane until I was recently was exposed to someone in my community who chained their dog 24/7 in all types of weather - in the heat like today,” Ellison said. “It is cruel to the animals. They depend on us for their physical and mental wellbeing, and it’s our obligation to take care of them.”
Tethering has been made illegal in other cities. Most recently, Georgetown approved banning the practice in April.
Meredith Jones is the medical director for Pet Helpers, a 501(c)3 adoption center and spay/neuter clinic in Charleston. She says leaving dogs tied up can be extremely dangerous.
“They can get tangled up in the tethers . . . which can cause all sorts of wounds and pretty serious issues with their legs, tails, even death if they get caught up too much and strangulate themselves,” Jones said, noting that sometimes the tethers and collars become imbedded in the dog’s flesh. “It requires a lot of supportive care, sometimes surgery to fix that, and a lot of time the dog has some variation of a scar for the rest of their life.”
Pet Helpers also runs a program called Unchain Charleston that helps pets with fencing and dog houses, so pets don’t have to be tethered when they are outside.
It is unknown when the changes to the current ordinance would be sent to city leaders.
Copyright 2022 WCSC. All rights reserved.
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- June 16 is World Sea Turtle Day, and the South Carolina Aquarium is celebrating coming one step closer to closing the funding gap for sea turtle conservation efforts.The SC Aquarium, in partnership with the National Aquarium and New England Aquarium, has been working with federal legislators to address the lack of funding given to organizations that provide sea turtle response and rehabilitation.New legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate on Thursday by Sens. Markey (D-Mass.) and Cornyn (R-Texas) coul...
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- June 16 is World Sea Turtle Day, and the South Carolina Aquarium is celebrating coming one step closer to closing the funding gap for sea turtle conservation efforts.
The SC Aquarium, in partnership with the National Aquarium and New England Aquarium, has been working with federal legislators to address the lack of funding given to organizations that provide sea turtle response and rehabilitation.
New legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate on Thursday by Sens. Markey (D-Mass.) and Cornyn (R-Texas) could be the answer.
The Sea Turtle Rescue Assistance Act creates a new grant program at the Department of Commerce to fund the rescue and recovery of sea turtles across the United States.
The legislation authorizes an additional $5 million in new funding annually from 2023 through 2028.
“We have a responsibility to protect the threatened and endangered sea turtles that call our waters home,” Sen. Markey said in a press release. “As our sea turtles continue to face greater existential threats, this legislation will help to keep our marine diversity alive. This funding will support rescue and recovery efforts, as well as the study of sea turtles so that future generations can know these animals as friends, not fiction.”
Officials from the SC Aquarium said the program will “fill a crucial gap in sea turtle conservation by providing much-needed direct support” to groups like the Aquarium’s own Sea Turtle Care Center.
The Sea Turtle Care Center treats sea turtles for a variety of ailments, including debilitated turtle syndrome, predation and boat strike wounds, injuries from interactions with fishing gear, and cold-stun. Officials say it costs an average of $35 per day for each patient’s treatment.
“The South Carolina Aquarium has been dedicated to rehabilitating sick and injured sea turtles for over 20 years. Sea turtles are ambassadors for conservation and drive awareness and actionable change for a better tomorrow,” South Carolina Aquarium President and CEO Kevin Mills said. “Their stories are critical to connecting people to water, wildlife and wild places, and we are grateful to work alongside National Aquarium and New England Aquarium in the movement to secure federal financial assistance to continue this meaningful work.”
To date, the center has successfully rehabilitated and released 355 sea turtles.
In May, an interdisciplinary MUSC research team won an inaugural Blue Sky Award, which provided $100,000 in funding for its project to restore vision in patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by recharging the eye cells’ batteries. The Blue Sky Award was created to encourage high-risk, high-reward research that has the potential to make a profound impact on patient care but is unlikely to attract traditional funding due to the difficulties of the projects.The team is led by ...
In May, an interdisciplinary MUSC research team won an inaugural Blue Sky Award, which provided $100,000 in funding for its project to restore vision in patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by recharging the eye cells’ batteries. The Blue Sky Award was created to encourage high-risk, high-reward research that has the potential to make a profound impact on patient care but is unlikely to attract traditional funding due to the difficulties of the projects.
The team is led by Baerbel Rohrer, Ph.D., of the College of Medicine, and Andrew Jakymiw, Ph.D., of the College of Dental Medicine, and included their graduate students Kyrie Wilson and Charles Holjencin. Rohrer is the Endowed Chair of Gene and Pharmaceutical Treatment of Retinal Degenerative Disease. Jakymiw is an expert in developing cell-penetrating peptides for drug delivery.
Together, they intend to tackle a disease that affects more than 10 million Americans: AMD. The disease causes vision to worsen slowly and eventually leads to blindness. Current therapies are inadequate, as they can only lessen the symptoms and aim, at best, to postpone the loss of vision. Existing therapies also require patients to return again and again for treatment.
“We knew that if we could treat the disease at the root cause, and not just the symptoms, that would be a huge step forward in regenerative medicine." -- Kyrie Wilson
Team members weren’t satisfied with just slowing down the disease. They wanted to develop a curative therapy that could protect and even restore vision.
“We knew that if we could treat the disease at the root cause, and not just the symptoms, that would be a huge step forward in regenerative medicine,” said Wilson.
At its root, AMD is caused by an insufficient supply of energy to eye cells.
“Every single activity of a cell requires energy,” said Rohrer. “Once you lose that energy, you will lose proper function of the cells. That will eventually lead to disease and vision loss.”
“This new approach is like a quantum leap. If this were to work, it would just significantly change not just the trajectory of my lab but the trajectory of treatment for AMD." -- Baerbel Rohrer, Ph.D.
Mitochondria are the batteries that supply energy to cells, and they have their own DNA – mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA – to help them to do that. When their DNA becomes damaged, mitochondria cease to function properly and cannot provide cells with the energy they need.
Over time or because of stress, errors can be introduced into mtDNA as it copies itself. Rohrer likens the process to the game of “telephone.” In the game, a person whispers a word into the ear of another person. That person then whispers the word into the ear of the next person and so on down the line.
“Whatever ends up after five people is probably not the word that you picked to start with,” said Rohrer. “And it’s pretty much the same thing with copying mtDNA.”
Instead of trying to target and fix many copy errors, Rohrer and Wilson wondered whether a better approach would be to prevent the mistakes in the first place. They could do so by providing the mitochondria a new blueprint, or template, for copying their DNA, essentially “resetting” the word in the telephone game.
“You need a new template,” said Wilson. “You need to go back and have the perfect words again and know what you’re trying to say.”
"Essentially, we have a delivery mechanism that carries its own instructions for cell delivery." -- Charles Holjencin
Rohrer and Wilson realized that they would need a vehicle to deliver the template to the mitochondria. It would have to be able to dodge the body’s immune system and be accepted by the mitochondria. They reached out to Jakymiw, who had expertise with small nucleic acid-based drug delivery.
“We had actually never delivered anything that large to that point,” said Jakymiw. “I mean we’re talking about like 16 kilobases, which is a pretty big molecule.”
Although the two laboratories had had initial discussions, it was the announcement of the Blue Sky Award that solidified the collaboration and jump started the project.
“Some outcomes of the preliminary work that has evolved over the last few months suggest that we can potentially deliver this large amount of DNA and target it efficiently enough to restore vision for individuals affected by AMD,” continued Jakymiw.
"You can also design the small proteins so that they can recognize a particular ‘zip code’ and deliver the cargo to that particular site within the cell.” -- Andrew Jakymiw, Ph.D.
Jakymiw and Holjencin decorate the surface of the mtDNA with small proteins that carry instructions for the cells and mitochondria on how to take up this newly formed nanoparticle.
“Essentially, we have a delivery mechanism that carries its own instructions for cell delivery,” said Holjencin, who is creating the nanoparticles being used in the project.
“You can also design the small proteins so that they can recognize a particular ‘zip code’ and deliver the cargo to that particular site within the cell,” said Jakymiw.
These small proteins also provide a potential “invisibility cloak” to protect the nanoparticles from the body’s immune system.
To date, the team has shown that the small proteins can package the mtDNA within nanoparticles and deploy it to the struggling mitochondria. They have also shown that it persists there for at least four weeks. In previous studies, mtDNA disappeared after just 48 hours.
“We will eventually end up looking for the presence of mtDNA at probably eight weeks, maybe even out to 16 weeks,” said Wilson.
“And obviously what we would want for humans is that that this translates into many years as opposed to having to repeat these treatments on a regular basis,” said Rohrer.
The hope is that introducing the template would set off a series of events that could lead to restored vision. The mitochondria might share the template with its neighbors, which could, likewise, pass it on. As the quality of mtDNA improves in more and more mitochondria, they could again supply sufficient energy to eye cells, restoring vision.
“This new approach is like a quantum leap. If this were to work, it would just significantly change not just the trajectory of my lab but the trajectory of treatment for AMD,” said Rohrer.