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NIH funding expands collaboration on ocular neovascularization

Researchers in the Glick Eye Institute transfer materials into a glass tube.

A female researcher works in a lab.

Indiana University School of Medicine was awarded a $1.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Eye Institute to explore if a unique protein often targeted in cancer treatments can also treat ocular neovascularization.

Neovascularization is the root cause of a range of sight-stealing eye diseases. Researchers Timothy W. Corson, PhD, and Mark R. Kelley, PhD, are targeting Redox effector factor-1 (Ref-1) as a signaling node for treating blood vessel growth in the eyes.

Ref-1 helps regulate the transcription of various genes involved in all kinds of cellular processes, including angiogenesis and inflammation. Corson and Kelley hypothesize blocking the signaling mechanisms in Ref-1 that promote the growth of new blood vessels could treat diseases like age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and retinopathy of prematurity.

The NIH funding – $1.7 million to be distributed over the next 4 years – will allow Corson and Kelley to explore what genes Ref-1 is influencing within the eye. Their studies will help determine if the protein is hyperactive in various eye diseases and whether it can be targeted therapeutically.

Corson and Kelley, the co-principal investigators on the new R01 grant, first began working together in 2018 and have collaborated on publications and patent submissions. The grant furthers a collaborative partnership between the laboratories of Corson and Kelley and the research institutes they represent within IU School of Medicine. So, the project brings together a wealth of diverse expertise.

Kelley – the Earl and Betty Herr Chair in Pediatric Oncology Research in the Herman B Wells Center for Pediatric Research and Associate Director of the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center – has for nearly 30 years been exploring Ref-1 as a therapeutic target in cancers and other diseases that manifest cancer-like properties.

Corson is the Merrill Grayson Senior Chair in the Department of Ophthalmology and Director of Basic and Translational Research in the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Eye Institute. His research has already identified other protein targets for blocking neovascularization in the eye.

Jason Meyer, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Medical and Molecular Genetics working in the Stark Neurosciences Research Institute, is a co-investigator.

His research focuses on the differentiation of retinal ganglion cells from human pluripotent stem cells. It’s an example of the cross-campus collaborations that IU School of Medicine takes pride in.

“The atmosphere at IU School of Medicine is always ripe for collaboration," Kelley said. “Sharing space with folks who are experts in their fields, who are willing to share their knowledge, always leads to quality connections and fruitful discoveries.”

Corson said he’s eager to pursue this new line of work because while it is complementary to the other projects already done in his lab, it’s a new area to explore.

“It’s always good to have diversified interests and funding for continued research success,” he said. “We’re really excited to launch into this, and I think it's going to be a great collaboration based on the good working relationship and the successes we've had so far.”

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
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Caitlin VanOverberghe

Caitlin VanOverberghe is a communications coordinator for the Indiana University School of Medicine, where she supports the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and the Department of Ophthalmology. Having earned degrees in journalism and telecommunications ...