Major Grant Success for Clear Vision Research!

Congratulations to Associate Professor Riccardo Natoli and the team at Clear Vision Research Laboratory (Dr. Joshua Chu-Tan and Dr. Ulrike Schumann), part of the John Curtin School of Medical Research and Australian National University Medical School, in collaboration with Bond University (Associate Professor Nigel Barnett) and the State University of New York College of Optometry (Dr. Stephanie Wohl) for their recent National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Ideas Grant success announced December 15th, 2020. The grant titled ‘Investigating microRNAs as key regulators in a novel communication pathway driving retinal degeneration’ will continue to explore the role of microRNA in retinal degenerations and specifically, age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This work will help gain a deeper understanding and potentially decode key molecular aspects of this currently incurable disease.

This four year grant success is the culmination of many years of hard work and we would like to thank everyone involved and not named on the grant, especially Dr. Yvette Wooff (postdoc at Clear Vision Research) and Adrian Cioanca (PhD candidate at Clear Vision Research) for spearheading the extracellular vesicle work that formed a significant portion of the grant. Finally, a big thank you to all the members of the Clear Vision Research Lab who contributed to the lab’s overall success in 2020: Riemke Aggio-Bruce, Artur Shariev, Krisztina Valter, Jan Provis, Ella Forward-Yang and Rong Bao. Well done team and here’s to an exciting 2021 research year.

A short abstract of the grant can be found below:

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is one of the most common causes of blindness, resulting in an economic annual cost of around $350 billion globally and around $5 billion in Australia. The risk factors for AMD are well known, however, effective treatments or prevention strategies remain limited. To develop effective prevention and treatment, the molecular mechanisms underlying AMD and its phenotypic manifestations must be understood. miRNAs, small molecules that regulate target gene expression, are known to be highly expressed in neurons, such as photoreceptors, and play a role in neurodegenerative diseases such as AMD. We have identified several candidate miRNAs that are transported across the retina in response to degeneration. Extracellular vesicles (EV), including exosomes, and their cargo have been shown to play a role in many diseases and present a prime candidate for transporting miRNAs. We have shown that depletion of EVs contributes to retinal degeneration, but the underlying molecular mechanisms remain unknown. This project will unravel the role EVs, exosomes and miRNAs play in the onset and development of retinal degeneration. Firstly, we will use several degenerative mouse models to establish the EVs miRNA cargo at early degenerative time points. Secondly, we will explore the supplementation of EVs, derived from healthy retinas, as a therapeutic. Lastly, to fully understand the interplay between molecular changes and phenotypic characteristics in degeneration onset and progression, we will establish a 3D molecular map of the degenerating retina. This will integrate the mRNA/miRNA expression signature with the degenerative phenotype at a cellular resolution using spatial transcriptomics technology. This project will contribute towards the development of novel therapeutics combining, EVs, exosomes and miRNAs, guided by the molecular expression patterns underlying retinal disease progression.