US Researcher is working to prevent blindness

West Virginia University researcher Maxim Sokolov and his colleagues have received $1.5 million from the USA National Institutes of Health to study the biochemistry that might make it possible to prevent blindness.

Marvel's Spiderman “I recently watched Spiderman again,” Sokolov said. “Remember, in Spiderman, Peter Parker was bitten by a spider, the spider gave him some of its DNA and he got the traits he didn’t have before. We had the same idea.” Maxim Sokolov, researcher, West Virginia University

Only instead of combining spider and human DNA, Sokolov and his team–including WVU researcher David Smith–will add archaeal DNA to mouse models’ genes. Then they’ll assess whether the mouse models gain the “superpower” of resisting retinal degeneration.

What they discover could suggest new methods to prevent incurable eye diseases, including retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disorder that causes irreversible vision loss. But their findings may also have broader implications.

After all, proteins can be misfolded in any cell. Folding errors are particularly harmful for the nervous system, where the buildup of misfolded proteins has been observed in a range of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

“There are diseases in the brain, and there is this disease called aging” said Sokolov. “We’ve used the eye as the model, but I’ll be interested to look much, much wider than that.”