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Audrey M. Bernstein, PhD

Dr. Bernstein


The central goal of our lab is to prevent blinding eye disease. Our research is focused on promoting regenerative healing in the eye after wounding and treating glaucoma by targeting the cellular dysfunction that promotes disease progression. We are interested in the involvement of aberrant protein aggregation and ubiquitin-mediated pathways in these pathologies.

Regenerative Healing in the Eye

We have elucidated novel intracellular ubiquitin-mediated degradation pathways that control cell-surface integrin expression and subsequent fibrotic growth factor (TGFb) signaling and scarring in the eye. We are using the cornea as a model system because corneal transparency is critical for clear, unobstructed vision, making it an important tissue in which to study scarring. The cornea refracts light as it enters the eye so that a properly focused image reaches the retina. When a cornea is wounded by surgery or injury, the wound may heal in a regenerative process (no scarring) or may enter a progressive loop of fibrosis (scarring). Our goal is to understand the mechanisms that promote regenerative wound healing and to apply these findings not only to the cornea, but to other models of fibrotic disease.

Autophagic Dysfunction in Exfoliation Glaucoma

Our work on Exfoliation glaucoma (XFG) also has broad consequences for the prevention of blindness. In XFG, the leading identifiable cause of glaucoma, the eye accumulates protein aggregates that block the exit of fluid from the eye. This project interrogates the basic mechanisms leading to protein aggregate formation and expulsion from cells, including protein folding mechanisms, mitochondrial health, microtubule dynamics, and autophagic pathways. The primary cells in combination with a new XFG mouse model are being utilized to understand the mechanistic underpinnings of the disease and to test novel therapies that may interrupt and reverse XFG disease processes.

Current Grants:

  • NIH-NEI R01 EY030567: Cellular Dysfunction in Exfoliation Glaucoma
  • The Glaucoma Foundation/Bright Focus: Impaired mitochondrial dynamics in Exfoliation Glaucoma
  • VA Merit Award I01 BX005360: A self-delivery siRNA for promoting regenerative healing in the eye
  • NIH-NEI R01 EY024942: The Ubiquitin Pathway in Corneal Scarring
  • NIH Direct to Phase II SBIR: A single dose anti-scarring therapeutic for the cornea
  • NSF I-Corps grant: Customer Discovery for anti-fibrotic therapeutic
  • SUNY RF TAF Award: Suppression of scarring following treatment of a novel siRNA therapeutic
  • SUNY RF Start-up S4 Pitch Competition Winners

Contact: Audrey M. Bernstein, PhD Professor, Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, and Cell & Developmental Biology
Location: 4602 Institute for Human Performance
Phone: (315) 464-7739
Email: [email protected]

Dr. Bernstein is a tenured Professor in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences with secondary appointments in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Cell and Developmental Biology at Upstate Medical University. Prior to joining SUNY in the summer of 2017, she was faculty at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in NYC. Dr. Bernstein has held leadership appointments in the vision community including an elected position in the program committee for the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO). She also serves on several study sections including the National Eye Institute (NEI), the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs, the DOD Vision Research Program, and Research to Prevent Blindness. Dr. Bernstein’s research is supported by the NEI, Research to Prevent Blindness, The Glaucoma Foundation, BrightFocus Foundation, the Moise and Chella Safra Foundation and The Mayer Family Foundation. She is a reviewer for numerous journals and an editor for eLIFE. Recently, she has been honored with the President's Award for Excellence and Leadership in Research at Upstate. She is co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of DUB Therapeutics, Inc, a spin-out company based on her regenerative healing therapeutic.