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Wilmer Glaucoma Faculty Receive NIH Grant for Gene Research

December 4, 2012

Wilmer Eye Institute’s Dr. Derek Welsbie, an assistant professor of ophthalmology, and Dr. Donald J. Zack, the Guerrieri Professor of Genetic Engineering & Molecular Ophthalmology, have received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the genes responsible for the death of retinal ganglion cells, specialized nerve cells that carry visual information from the eye to the brain. In glaucoma, these retinal ganglion cells are injured and die, resulting in vision loss. The two-year grant will enable them to use high-throughput robotic machinery to screen the entire genome – over 19,000 genes – for genes directly involved in the death of retinal ganglion cells.

Currently, treatment for glaucoma involves the use of eye drops or surgery to lower eye pressure. “For over 100 years, that’s been the only way to treat glaucoma,” notes Welsbie. “We’re trying to come up with a new type of therapy, called neuroprotection, that uses medications to directly inhibit the function of genes responsible for retinal ganglion cell death. This is the first unbiased, comprehensive look at every gene in the retinal ganglion cell.”

Working on the project with Welsbie and Zack are a technician, a Johns Hopkins University undergraduate student, a Wilmer resident and a post-doctoral student.

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