The purpose of the research being carried out in my laboratory is to identify the factors responsible for the death of injured cells in the retina of the eye.
- Enhance the survival of the injured cells
- Encourage the surviving cells to re-establish normal connections in the retina and brain
More than half the causes of blindness are due to retinal diseases such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy. In each of these diseases the injury results in the death of retinal cells, particularly retinal ganglion cells and photoreceptors. Retinal ganglion cells die within two weeks of having their axons in the optic nerve cut by the process of apoptosis.
Apoptosis is triggered by:
- Loss of supporting growth factors
- Glutamate excitotoxicity
- Toxic chemicals released by surviving cells (neurons and glia)
In our experiments we take steps to prevent apoptosis by replacing missing growth factors and blocking the toxic responses to cell injury. Neurotrophins, growth factors (GDNF, CNTF) or anti-apoptotic factors (NAIP, XIAP) are delivered to injured retinal ganglion cells either by direct injection into the eye or by viral-mediated gene transfer. Similar methods are used to evaluate the effect of anti-inflammatory cytokines (IL-4, IL-10, or TGF-b) on neuronal survival after injury. The new strategies that are discovered by this research will lead to the development of new drugs by the pharmaceutical industry that will aid in the treatment of diseases affecting the nervous system.
Techniques used in these studies include: Immunohistochemistry, intracellular injection, tracing neuronal pathways with fluorescent probes, laser scanning confocal microscopy, image analysis, microsurgery.