Researchers create molecular map of eye to help detect loss of vision

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Researchers from the University of Iowa (UI) can now start figuring out root causes behind eye diseases and vision loss, following their creation of the most-detailed molecular map of a section of the human eye. This section of the eye has long been associated with blindness.

The map in high-resolution records over 4,000 unique proteins found in the choroid’s areas, namely periphery, macula and fovea, which delivers oxygen and blood to the outer retina. This provides researchers the ability to see the differences in these proteins in varied areas of the choroid, according to the recent study published in JAMA Ophthalmology journal.

“This molecular map now gives us clues why certain areas of the choroid are more sensitive to certain diseases, as well as where to target therapies and why,” corresponding study author Vinit Mahajan, MD, PhD, says in a statement.

Vision specialists know all too well that several diseases of the eye, which include age-related macular degeneration (AMD), result from the inflammation that impairs the choroid and retinal pigment epithelium. With the new discovery, the researchers can now pinpoint which of the proteins are far richer in specific areas and the reason why as well.

Mahajan, who is also UI ophthalmology assistant professor, says the differences are now visible to them.

For instance is the protein CFH known to help stop molecular cascade that result to AMD. The molecular map showed that such protein is most abundant in fovea area. This information now helps them monitor the abundance of CFH there; meaning fewer quantities of such protein could signify an increased risk for the development of AMD.

“We were able to identify thousands of proteins simultaneously and develop a map that shows what are the patterns of proteins that make these regions unique. This has helped explain why certain genes are associated with macular degeneration, and helps point us to new treatment targets,” Jessica Skeie, first author of the study and post-doctoral researcher in ophthalmology at UI, says in a statement.

The study, titled Proteomic Landscape of the Human Choroid–Retinal Pigment Epithelial Complex, was conducted with the use of non-diseased eye tissue donation from three deceased seniors through Iowa Lions Eye Bank.

Their research work received funding from the nonprofit Bright Focus Foundation that aims to get rid of eye and brain diseases, such as glaucoma, macular degeneration and Alzheimer’s disease among others. The researchers also received support through grants by the National Institutes of Health.