Ashland University Awarded Federal Grant for Cataract Research
ASHLAND, Ohio – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced earlier this week that it is awarding Ashland University $159,000 to perform additional research to better understand cataracts, one of the leading causes of human blindness. The grant was awarded through the National Eye Institute’s Academic Research Enhancement Awards (AREA) fund.
“Funds from this grant will be used to hire undergraduate research students as summer laboratory assistants over each of the next three years,” said Dr. Mason Posner, professor of Biology and chair of the Department of Biology and Toxicology at Ashland University. “The students are making discoveries that help us understand what goes wrong in the eye lens to produce cataracts.”
Posner said he and his team of undergraduate students will continue to use zebrafish to study how the protein alpha crystallin maintains lens transparency as the body ages.
"The zebrafish is a small tropical species that has become a widely used model for understanding many human diseases,” Posner said. “Because the zebrafish eye lens contains the same components found in human lenses, this species can be used to study human eye disease without having to rely on more expensive species like mice and rats.”
According to Posner, as the lens ages, its proteins become unstable and stick together, blocking the light that normally passes through to the retina. “Alpha crystallin keeps these aged proteins apart and preserves transparency,” he said. “When alpha crystallin doesn’t do its job, cataracts are formed.”
This research was first conducted at Ashland University in 2001 following a grant from the National Institutes of Health. Funds from these grants have been used to develop a facility for the maintenance and breeding of zebrafish, and for the laboratory equipment and supplies used in experiments being conducted at the Kettering Science Center on the Ashland University campus.
“We’re very excited about the opportunity to continue to do this research here,” Posner said. “This is an invaluable experience for students who want to go on to graduate or medical school, or get jobs in our local bioscience industry. The students’ research helps them to develop their skills as scientists, which is a benefit to our regional science and technology economy.”
Ashland University is a mid-sized, private institution conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Ashland University values the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong, applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students.