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On/Off Switches Part One

Posted by Ilena Di Toro | Posted on December 8, 2020

Isn’t electricity great? You flip a switch and an appliance turns on or off. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to do something similar for our bodies, in particular our eyes. That way when an injury or disease comes along, something in the cellular level could be turned on or off and damage or disease would reverse itself.

Well, there is research going on that shows the potential of prompting cells in the eye to behave in a certain way so that damage from injury or disease can be reversed or even prevented.

At the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF), scientists have discovered a compound that controls the growth of blood vessels. This could lead to treatments for eye conditions such as retinopathy of prematurity and diabetic retinopathy. These conditions occur when blood vessels grow out of control in the retina and that leads to vision issues and eventual blindness.

Researchers studied newborn mice to learn more about the growth of blood vessels and how they grow. They found that there was a set of blood vessels in mice that regress and disappear after birth. In addition, the scientists found that levels of a specific class of cellular proteins crashed as the mice experience blood vessel loss in the eye.

Chris Schafer, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher who was a part of this study thought that these proteins were an off switch that stopped the growth of blood vessels in the newborn mouse eye. Since the proteins are off switches, they can be manipulated into turning off or on when it is advantageous for eye and vision health.

To see if the proteins can be manipulated into shutting down blood vessel growth in mice, Schafer used this protein and “tricked” the blood vessels in the retinas of diseased mice into regressing and dying off. What’s even more great about this protein is that it only worked on abnormal blood vessels in the eye. The healthy ones were left alone.

While more work is needed, this shows that the abnormal blood vessels in the eye respond to a potential treatment based off of this research. In addition, this has implications in the area of cancer, in particular when it comes to shrinking tumors that have abnormal blood vessels.

This is not the only on/off research that is out there. The National Eye Institute (NEI) is funding research as part of its Audacious Goals Initiative (AGI) that is looking into ways to develop therapies to restore vision via biological or genetic means. One of these projects were done at Johns Hopkins University. It will be featured in the next blog entry.


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