Vision Research Trainee Grants Awarded to McPherson ERI Graduate Students
Thomas Lawler and Dwani Patel are the 2018 recipients of the McPherson ERI’s Vision Research Trainee Grants. These one-year grant awards of $3000 each are funded by the Institute’s annual Cycle for Sight event and awarded by the Research and Leadership Committees. They were established to give trainees experience writing grant applications, to augment their professional development, to advance vision research in McPherson ERI member groups by funding trainee research, and to encourage the next generation of vision scientists. Four grants have been awarded since the program’s inception.
Thomas Lawler is a graduate student in the Integrated Program in Nutritional Sciences, working with Professor Julie Mares’ lab group (Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences). His project will explore “The association between early life exposure to carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin and macular pigment optical density in adulthood.” Lawler hypothesizes that breastfeeding in the first six months may increase macular pigment level in adulthood, and will explore whether this early life exposure to the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin (L/Z) reduces the risk for age-related eye disease later in life. If confirmed, such findings would support the development of recommendations concerning breastfeeding and the consumption of L/Z by lactating mothers.
Dwani Patel, an MD/PhD graduate student in Professor Daniel Lipinski’s lab in the Department of Cell Biology, Neurobiology and Anatomy at the Medical College of Wisconsin, will advance understanding of diabetic retinopathy by “Utilizing laser speckle contrast imaging (LSCI) to detect pre-clinical markers of retinal vascular dysfunction in diabetic rat models.” This non-invasive imaging technique can measure the real-time functional dynamics of blood flow in two cell types crucial for maintaining retinal microvascular homeostasis — endothelial cells and retinal pericytes – thus providing an early glimpse at the effects of cell stress on retinal blood vessels. Patel’s study would also be the first to enable quantification of the in vivo efficacy of gene therapy in rodent models of early diabetic retinopathy.