A West Virginia University School of Medicine researcher is teaming up with scientists from the University of Washington to conduct research on a leading cause of visual impairment and blindness in adults.
Jianhai Du, Ph.D., an associate professor for the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, is a co-principal investigator for two grants awarded to the University of Washington Department of Ophthalmology. He will collaborate with Jennifer Chao, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor for the University of Washington.
Both grants were awarded through the National Eye Institute and total more than $4 million in direct and indirect funding for age-related macular degeneration research at the universities. One of the grants will disburse the funds over a five-year period, while the other will disburse the funds over a three-year period. In total, WVU will be receiving approximately $1.7 million in funding throughout the course of these grants, according to Dr. Du.
Du said the goal of both grants is to further understand the relationship between metabolism and AMD. He explained that AMD is a very common eye disease that can blur central vision.
“AMD occurs when aging causes damage to the part of the eye that controls sharp, straight-ahead vision,” Du explained. “It is the leading cause of visual impairment and blindness in adults over the age of 65 and is estimated to affect approximately 288 million people worldwide by the year 2040.”
University of Washington clinical scientists will use stem cell technology to create AMD cell models from patients in their clinics. The University of Washington also has access to patients who possess a rare genetic mutation called Sorsby Fundus Dystrophy, which has very similar clinical features to AMD, that they will use to create disease models as well, Du said.
Those samples will then be sent to WVU, where Du and his team can use them to conduct groundbreaking research to analyze metabolic changes in the patients’ cells in his lab. He said a cross-country collaboration like this is a great thing for both universities, and for the field of ophthalmology in general.
“I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to work together with Dr. Chao and the University of Washington. Collaborating with other scientists at other universities helps us as researchers share ideas, expertise, and our experiences with one another as we work towards the common goal of better understanding these diseases to help those who suffer from them.”
To learn more about the research being conducted by the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, visit medicine.hsc.wvu.edu/eye/research