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Wayne State University researcher receives funding to seek new ways to halt sight threatening disease, retinopathy, feared by diabetics

October 8, 2009

DETROIT- Renu A. Kowluru, Ph.D., professor of ophthalmology, anatomy/cell biology and endocrinology at Wayne State University's School of Medicine and the Kresge Eye Institute, has secured additional federal funding for her work in combating diabetic retinopathy.


Renu A. Kowluru

The $750,000, two-year grant from the National Institutes of Health was made possible through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, signed into law by President Barack Obama. This most recent funding will further Dr. Kowluru's R01 study, "Role of Ras in Retinal Cell Death in Diabetes."

Retinopathy is the most common cause of acquired blindness in diabetic patients. The condition is a result of damage to the small blood vessels in the retina, the layer of cells in the back of the eye that is responsible for sending signals to the brain.

All people with diabetes are at risk of developing retinopathy, and the risk increases the longer a person has diabetes. Between 40 percent and 45 percent of Americans with diabetes suffer from retinopathy, according to the National Eye Institute. The condition's onset can begin with no or few symptoms.

Dr. Kowluru's research focuses on determining the role of matrix metalloproteinases-9 (MMP-9), a member of the family of metalloproteinases that regulates major biological functions, including apoptosis and matrix degradation, in the pathogenesis of diabetic retinopathy. She believes that activation of signaling cascade of H-Ras (a small molecular weight G-protein) in diabetes activates MMP-9, accelerating capillary cell loss in the retina, and ultimately leading to the development of diabetic retinopathy. She will investigate the mechanism through which H-Ras activates MMP-9 in the retina in diabetes, and how MMP-9-dependent cellular signaling pathways contribute to the loss of capillary cells.

She explained that she expects to find that the activation of H-Ras in the retina in diabetes regulates MMP-9, and activated MMP-9 accelerates cell loss in the capillaries of the retina by damaging the mitochondria and speeding cell death.

"We believe that by understanding the role of MMP-9 in the pathogenesis of diabetic retinopathy, the compounds that neutralize MMP-9 can be identified to inhibit its development," Dr. Kowluru said. "This should have immense clinical implications because MMP inhibitors are already being used in clinical trials for other diseases, and our results are expected to lay the groundwork for a possibility to use them to inhibit retinopathy, the sight-threatening disease that diabetic patients fear the most."

Wayne State University is one of the nation's pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For information about research at Wayne State University, visit http://www.research.wayne.edu.

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