A Zebrafish Model of Wet Macular

Daniel Chao, MD, PhD
Shiley Eye Institute, University of California, San Diego (La Jolla, CA)
Year Awarded:
Grant Duration:
July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2019
Macular Degeneration
Award Amount:
Grant Reference ID:
Award Type:
Award Region:
US Southwestern
Daniel Chao, MD, PhD

Characterization of a Zebrafish Model of Wet Macular Degeneration


The purpose of this study is to develop a new model of wet macular degeneration using zebrafish, a common pet store fish.  The advantages of zebrafish are that they are small, inexpensive, have retinas very similar to humans, and can be used for large scale drug screens.  We have characterized a particular zebrafish strain which has growth of abnormal vessels in the retina, very similar to what happens in wet AMD. We will perform drug screens in this zebrafish to identify drugs which inhibit abnormal blood vessel growth and may show promise as therapeutics for macular degeneration.


The purpose of the grant is to develop zebrafish, a common model organism, as a model for drug discovery for macular degeneration.

The first part of our grant looks at the movement and behavior of macrophages, immune cells in the retina, which are thought to be important in the pathogenesis of macular degeneration. We will do live imaging of macrophages during normal development as well as in a particular zebrafish mutant which has aberrant growth of vessels in the eye, mimicking macular degeneration. We will then use genetic tools to get rid of macrophages to see how this affects vessel growth.  The second part of our grant is to investigate the role of a candidate protein which may be involved in mediating blood vessel growth in the zebrafish eye.  This protein is expressed specifically in newly formed vessels in the retina.  We will look at the function of this protein in vessel growth in the zebrafish eye by examining zebrafish which are lacking this protein, as well as use an FDA approved drug which inhibits activity of this protein on the vessels.

The third part of our experiment is to conduct a pilot drug screen of molecules to see whether they can inhibit aberrant vessel growth in our zebrafish mutant which mimics macular degeneration.  We will put zebrafish embryos in 96 well plates and then add individual drugs to each well, and then determine whether the drug can inhibit growth of abnormal blood vessels in the zebrafish eye. Using a library of FDA approved drugs, we hope to find drugs which may be effective in inhibiting vessel growth and thus may be effective as new therapeutics for macular degeneration. 

This proposal is innovative in that it uses a novel organism to model macular degeneration.  Most models of AMD involve rodents, which are expensive and therefore not as useful for high throughput drug approaches. The advantages of zebrafish are that they are small, inexpensive, have retinas very similar to humans, and can be used for large-scale drug screens. After the completion of this proposal, I hope to demonstrate the utility of zebrafish as a model for macular degeneration.  I plan to utilize this novel model of macular degeneration to identify new proteins which may be involved in abnormal vessel growth in the retina.  I hope the insights we find will lead to new cures for macular degeneration.

About the Researcher

Dr. Daniel Chao is an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Shiley Eye Institute and Department of Ophthalmology, University of California, San Diego.  He is a retina surgeon and sees patients with retinal diseases such as diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, and retinal detachments.  Dr. Chao also leads a research program using zebrafish as a translational model for retinal vascular diseases such as diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). He is also involved in clinical research doing biomarker discovery for diabetic retinopathy as well as novel imaging techniques in the retina. His long-term goal is to identify new therapeutic targets for diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration and translate these into therapies.

Personal Story

I am very grateful to Brightfocus donors for supporting my research.  As a young junior faculty member, it is often difficult to get funding to pursue our ideas, as we do not have an established track record.  Through foundations like Brightfocus, I am given the seed funding to initiate projects which I think have the possibility of making a big impact in treating macular degeneration, and this has made it possible for me to jump start my research career.

Don't miss out.
Receive research updates, inspiring stories, and expert advice
Please enter your first name.
Please enter your last name.
Keep me informed about: *
Please select at least one.
You must select at least one disease category.