Upstate News

January 10, 2008
Doretta Royer 315 464-4833

Two SUNY Upstate vision research studies attract more than $2.8 million in NIH funding

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — SUNY Upstate Medical University researchers Peter D. Calvert, Ph.D., and Michael E. Zuber, Ph.D., have received more than $2.8 million combined in funding from the National Eye Institute (NEI) of the National Institutes of Health to support their studies into the visual system. One study is expected to shed new light on the role genetic mutations play in retinal degeneration and blindness, the other will generate a map of the genetic network of eye formation.

Calvert and Zuber, both assistant professors of ophthalmology and adjunct assistant professors of biochemistry and molecular biology at SUNY Upstate, received their awards in September.

“These NIH awards distinguish Dr. Calvert and Dr. Zuber as young scientists whose investigations into the visual system show great promise,” said John Hoepner, M.D., professor and chair of SUNY Upstate’s Department of Ophthalmology.

Calvert received a five-year award, totaling $1,766,000 in funding. He and his team are investigating the biophysical mechanisms of protein transport and localization in the light detecting, retinal rod photoreceptors. The work may shed light on how genetic mutations that cause improper localization of proteins in these cells ultimately lead to retinal degeneration and loss of sight.

“Understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying normal protein transport and localization, and what goes wrong with these processes in congenital degenerative diseases of the eye, such as retinitis pigmentosa, is paramount to understanding disease mechanisms and to the development of new therapies,” Calvert said.

“Understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying normal protein transport and localization, and what goes wrong with these processes in congenital degenerative diseases of the eye, such as retinitis pigmentosa, is paramount to understanding disease mechanisms and to the development of new therapies,” Calvert said.

Calvert’s laboratory has devised an innovative way to view the dynamics of proteins in living retinal cells in real time at light levels that minimally perturb them, allowing the team to directly quantify light-dependent changes in protein dynamics, subcellular protein localization and the cellular signals that underlie these changes. SUNY Upstate is one of only two centers worldwide that can perform research using this new technology. Calvert and his team also have developed new ways to analyze protein dynamics in live cells.

Zuber received a four-year award totaling $1,099,000. This award marks Zuber’s second four-year grant from the NEI. He and his team are conducting a study of retinal stem (RS) cells, rare cells that hold promise in treating retinal diseases, such as retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration. “The long-term objective of our investigation is to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying retinal stem cell formation and eye development,” said Zuber. “We have discovered that eye formation requires the coordinated action of at least seven genes. These eye field transcription factors, or EFTFs, can transform cells that would normally form skin into retinal stem cells and ultimately a functioning eye. The goals of this study are to identify the genes activated by the EFTFs and determine the roles they play during normal eye formation.”

Zuber says that findings will aid in the discovery of new potentially disease causing genes and generate a preliminary map of the genetic network of eye formation. “Understanding the network of genes required for eye formation will help us to identify previously unknown biological pathways required for eye development and provide a window into understanding and treating human blindness,” said Zuber.

The Center for Vision Research of SUNY Upstate’s Department of Ophthalmology celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2007. Over the past 10 years, the center, through its vision researchers, have brought SUNY Upstate more than $17.5 million in research funds. In addition, the Center for Vision Research has built a $1.5 million endowment through the Upstate Medical University Foundation. The center, directed by Robert B. Barlow, Ph.D., consists of six faculty members in the Department of Ophthalmology—one of whom is a distinguished vision scientist from Japan. In addition, there are three postdoctoral fellows, three graduate students, and 10 support staff.

For more information about SUNY Upstate Medical University’s Vision Care and Research Center, visit http://www.upstate.edu/eye/.

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