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Retinal Nourishment is Key in Preventing Vision Loss
Nourish the retina. That's the concept behind two newly identified strategies for keeping the retina healthy and preventing vision loss. They were the findings of Foundation-funded researcher Constance Cepko, Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School, who studies the degeneration of photoreceptors in animal models of retinal disease.
In a research paper published in the journal Nature Neuroscience (online, December 7, 2008), Dr. Cepko and her colleagues Claudio Punzo, Ph.D., and Karl Kornacker, Ph.D., describe how nutrients, and their ingestion and utilization by photoreceptors, might be a key to new therapies aimed at treating inherited retinal diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa.
They targeted their investigation to cones — the photoreceptors in the retina that provide central and detailed vision. They noted that retinal pigment epithelial cells, which play an essential supportive role, deliver critical nutrients, such as glucose, to cones. In RP, rods degenerate, and cone death inevitably follows. The functional relationship of the RPE and cones might suffer from the alteration in the spatial relationships between the RPE and few remaining cones.
Dr. Cepko notes that she and her colleagues continue to investigate cone metabolism to better identify potential treatment approaches. She adds, "If we could understand better how a cone takes up and uses glucose, for example, perhaps we could design a therapy to help the cones better utilize their glucose."
Researchers like Dr. Cepko are interested in cone survival, because even keeping a small fraction of these retinal cells alive and healthy can enable a person to see well enough to conduct most daily living activities without assistance.
In a second paper published in the journal Science (January 9, 2009), Dr. Cepko and colleague, Bo Chen, Ph.D., found that the protein HDAC4 prolonged the life of both healthy and diseased retinal cells. The sustaining effect of the protein is termed "neuroprotective."
While Dr. Cepko's study of HDAC4 was in mouse models of retinal degenerative disease, she believes the protein has strong potential to be effective in humans. She plans additional studies of HDAC4 to better understand its potential as a treatment in human retinal disease.
Stephen Rose, Ph.D., chief research officer, Foundation Fighting Blindness, notes that while translational research — moving potential treatments into the clinic — remains a priority, laboratory studies are also an important part of the Foundation's portfolio of research projects. "There is still much we need to understand about how the retina works," he says. "We need to understand the basic science to identify the best targets for treatments and cures."
Contributions from generous FFB donors across the country are making these kinds of breakthroughs possible.
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