UC Davis Health System’s Eye Center has received a $250,000 Career Development Award from Research to Prevent Blindness to support the research of Ala Moshiri, an assistant professor of ophthalmology and director of electrophysiology services at the Eye Center.
Moshiri is a specialist in all diseases of the retina, the complex tissue in the back of the eye that contains specialized photoreceptor cells called rods and cones. These photoreceptors connect to a network of nerve cells for processing visual information that is decoded by the brain into visual images.
The retina is susceptible to a variety of diseases, including age-related macular degeneration, retinal detachment, diabetic retinopathy, retinitis pigmentosa and other inherited retinal degenerations, each of which can lead to vision loss or complete blindness. Malfunctioning and death of rod and cone photoreceptor cells is at the core of all of these retinal conditions.
According to the National Eye Institute, one of the major achievements in biology has been defining the cellular events involved in the process of visual transduction — the process by which photoreceptor cells in the eye capture light and initiate the electrical signals utilized by the brain in processing visual information.
As part of his Research to Prevent Blindness Career Development Award, Moshiri will develop novel technologies in functional imaging of photoreceptor diseases in animal models and humans. He will focus on developing molecular fluorescence resonance energy transfer sensors to capture signals in the cycle of vision to assess retinoid function under healthy and diseased conditions.
“At this point, there is no technology to directly assess the health and function of rod and cone photoreceptors,” said Moshiri. “The ongoing work in the lab is aimed at developing these molecular sensors in order to detect and confirm the health of photoreceptor cells and to verify that they are sensing light in a healthy way. This technology will give us more information about all diseases of the retina and will help pave the way to develop and test new therapies, including stem cell therapies, for virtually all retinal problems.”
Research to Prevent Blindness established the career development award in 1990 to attract young physicians and basic scientists to eye research. To date, 171 vision research scientists at universities nationwide have received the awards.
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