Signaling in RPE cell survival
Dr. Bazan will be examining human retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells in lab cultures while simulating conditions that occur in the eye with age-related macular degeneration. RPE cells form an important membrane separating the retina's light-sensitive rod and cone cells from another membrane, called Bruch's membrane. In the early form of the disease, called “dry” macular degeneration, the RPE cells slowly degenerate along with the cells of the retina. When macular degeneration becomes advanced, as in the “wet” form of the disease, bleeding from abnormal blood vessels can burst through Bruch's membrane and the RPE cell layer, damaging or destroying the fragile rods and cones. All vision loss due to this cellular damage is irreversible. The specific focus of Dr. Bazan's study will be to identify signaling chemicals that cue the RPE cells whether to survive or die, and he hopes to identify the agents that help RPE cells survive under disease conditions. The discovery of a protective agent for RPE cells could lead to a drug therapy that could be used early in the course of age-related macular degeneration, before too much damage has occurred.