FAU researchers and collaborators receive $2.8 million NIH grant

February 04, 2016

The National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a $2.8 million, multi-institution grant to Marc Kantorow, Ph.D., professor and director of graduate studies in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University, and Sue Menko, Ph.D., a professor at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. Investigators of this four-year project, which include co-principal investigator Lisa Brennan, Ph.D., research associate professor in FAU's College of Medicine, will work to define the mechanisms that govern how cells decide whether to become a mature cell or whether to die.

"This 'to be or not to be' decision is at the heart of discovering those cell controls that determine for example how healthy cells become cancer cells and how stem cells become organs," said Kantorow, who was awarded $1.2 million from the NIH. "Understanding these controls is critical in learning how to make transplantable tissues to cure human disease."

A poorly understood process is how cells make the initial decision to go from undifferentiated stem cell populations to the beginning stages of growth and maturation. With this new grant, Kantorow and his colleagues will use the eye lens as a model to test this question, since unlike other tissues of the body, the lens is composed of only two cell types - a stem cell population and mature cells that last a lifetime. Because the eye lens grows throughout life, this process of continuous stem cell conversion into mature cell populations can be studied in an ideal system that allows the testing of individual gene functions in isolated cell mechanisms.

"It is important to note that disruption of this process also causes cataract formation, which remains the leading cause of blindness worldwide, despite modern advances in cataract surgery," said Kantorow. "So, understanding these mechanisms also could lead to therapies to delay or prevent cataract formation."

The work from this grant will be applicable toward understanding the differentiation, development and disease states of other tissues since the regulatory molecules examined are common to many other tissues.

"We are extremely proud to receive this prestigious grant from the National Institutes of Health," said Arthur J. Ross, III, M.D., M.B.A., interim dean and professor in FAU's College of Medicine. "The great work taking place in the Kantorow laboratory combined with a team approach that brings together research expertise and strengths will enable this study to significantly impact our understanding of the mechanisms that regulate critical, but as of yet, not well understood aspects of eye lens development."

This project is supported by the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health through grant number 1R01EY026478-01.
About the Kantorow Laboratory:

The Kantorow laboratory focuses on understanding mitochondrial mechanisms in ocular development and disease. Specifically, the group focuses on the eye lens and the retina as models for understanding cell differentiation, cell function and disease. Work ranges from analysis of the functions of genes identified to cause ocular disease when mutated, to the direct of effects of UV-light and other agents associated with the development of ocular disease on mitochondrial and other cell functions. In addition to understanding how the functions of ocular cells are altered in disease states, the group also examines how manipulation of key cell systems can be applied to treat and/or prevent ocular diseases including age-related cataract formation and macular degeneration that are the leading causes of visual disability. The group is using the knowledge gained from these studies to engineer cell systems and cells that can be transplanted into cells or tissues to restore the functions of damaged organs.

About Florida Atlantic University:

Florida Atlantic University, established in 1961, officially opened its doors in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. Today, the University, with an annual economic impact of $6.3 billion, serves more than 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students at sites throughout its six-county service region in southeast Florida. FAU's world-class teaching and research faculty serves students through 10 colleges: the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, the College of Business, the College for Design and Social Inquiry, the College of Education, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the Graduate College, the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. FAU is ranked as a High Research Activity institution by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University is placing special focus on the rapid development of critical areas that form the basis of its strategic plan: Healthy aging, biotech, coastal and marine issues, neuroscience, regenerative medicine, informatics, lifespan and the environment. These areas provide opportunities for faculty and students to build upon FAU's existing strengths in research and scholarship. For more information, visit http://www.fau.edu.

Florida Atlantic University

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