Trakhtenberg receives PITCH Promising Project Award

As posted in UConn Innovation Portal & UConn Today April 9, 2018

An image of immature retinal ganglion cell neuron from Dr. Trakhtenberg’s research, adapted for a cover page of the International Review of Neurobiology volume on Axon Growth and Regeneration (Goldberg & Trakhtenberg, Eds, 2012, Vol 106: Academic Press)

Two University of Connecticut professors have won a PITCH Promising Project Award to work on developing a novel approach for repairing optic nerve damage that occurs in optic neuropathies such as glaucoma.

Ephraim Trakhtenberg and Jessica Rouge are the co-Principle Investigators for this project. Previous research by Trakhtenberg found that there are certain molecules which can stimulate the regrowth of optic nerve axons after eye injury. Axons are the extensions of the eye neurons that pass nerve impulses to the brain. When an optic nerve is damaged, these axons are irreversibly disrupted. Consequently, signals carrying visual information cannot be transmitted from the eye to the brain, resulting in blindness.

However, a problem persists with such potential treatments, which need to be delivered rapidly and sustainably to specific retinal cells – retinal ganglion cells (RGCs). The current drug delivery methods are slow and do not target many of the injured RGCs. Rouge will utilize her expertise in nanomaterials and chemistry in conjunction with PITCH funding to advance such a delivery system that will be tested by Trakhtenberg. In parallel, Trakhtenberg will use PITCH funding to investigate novel compounds with predicted therapeutic potential, provided for the project through the Atomwise AIMS Award to him. Ultimately, the researchers envision that a combination of the novel therapeutic molecules and the advanced delivery system will lead to the development of a therapeutic approach for treating optic neuropathies.

Trakhtenberg is an assistant professor of neuroscience at UConn Health. He received his Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School. His lab’s research focus is to understand the molecular mechanisms of neuronal development and regeneration and to use this knowledge to develop approaches for repairing injured central nervous system circuits.

Rouge is an assistant professor in the UConn Department of Chemistry. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Colorado in chemistry in 2012 and completed her postdoctoral work at Northwestern University. Her research focuses on understanding how enzymes and nucleic acids can be used to engineer highly specific responses in chemical and biological systems.


New Grant Tests Potential Target for Age-Related Blindness

Published in UConn Today, April 23, 2018

Royce Mohan, a UConn Health associate professor of neuroscience, has received more than $400,000 from the National Institutes of Health to study the role of a specific enzyme in retinal gliosis.

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the most common cause of blindness in people over the age of 50 in many developed western countries, including 11 million Americans. Estimates predict that 196 million people worldwide will suffer from this condition by 2020. Retinal gliosis is a phenomenon that causes scarring and occurs in many eye diseases and also after injury.

With retinal gliosis, Muller glial cells become activated and can proliferate and become invasive. Gliosis has been observed in humans with AMD, as well as mouse models of AMD, signifying that a link exists between this process and the condition, but the details of the relationship remain unclear.

As AMD progresses people may begin to see a blurry spot at the center of their vision which will continue to develop into blank spots in one’s central vision. These effects are caused by damage to the macula, a one-mm sized tissue at the center of the retina that controls visual acuity. This loss of central vision interferes with every day tasks like reading, driving, and identifying faces. Elderly people lacking this central vision are also more prone to fall and break bones.  Learn more about this study.