Retinal blindness, such as retinitis pigmentosa (RP), age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and glaucoma (POAG), is characterized by unrelenting neuronal death (photoreceptor loss in RP and AMD and ganglion cell loss in POAG). These prevalent blinding conditions account for a significant part of the estimated US$139 billion annual economic burden of vision disorders in the U.S. This group has, for the first time, shown that controlled microscale electromagnetic (EM) stimulation can lead to neuroprotective changes in the retina. The transformational vision of this project is to use non-invasive controlled electrical stimulation to induce genetic changes in the mammalian retina to slow down the progression of retinal blindness and perhaps even restore some level of the lost vision. The success of such an approach would spawn a whole new area in basic science, engineering, and medicine and in doing so develop new, innovative, cross-disciplinary educational programs critical to foster the next-generation of researchers of bioelectronic devices to affect protective genetic changes.
A number of mechanisms have been identified as to why neuronal death occurs in different retinal blinding disorders (e.g., genetic mutations in RP, lipid metabolism abnormalities and inflammation in AMD, and elevated intraocular pressure in POAG to name a few). This group has shown that controlled microscale electromagnetic (EM) stimulation can lead to epigenetic retinal changes with implications for neuroprotective changes. The hypothesis of this proposal is that neuroepigenetic and chromatin remodeling of the retina induced through controlled electrical stimulation is a key molecular determinant of neuroprotection and could prove to be pivotal for the treatment of certain retinal blindness conditions. The vision of this proposal is that the findings will demonstrate how stimulation using electromagnetic (EM) fields can be effectively adopted to slow or halt the progression of prevalent retinal diseases.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.