Published March 13, 2018
A team led by Mark D. Parker, PhD, assistant professor of physiology and biophysics, has been awarded funding from the National Institutes of Health to study endothelial membrane transport proteins in the cornea.
The five-year, nearly $2 million grant is funded through the National Eye Institute (NEI).
The cornea is the transparent, outermost layer of the eye that allows the passage of light into the eye and promotes the focusing of light onto the retina. It is composed of a collagen matrix (stroma) sandwiched between two cell layers: the epithelium and the endothelium.
The corneal endothelium pumps fluid out of the cornea to maintain the stroma in an optimally hydrated and healthy state, says Parker, the grant’s principal investigator.
“Diseases of the endothelium can cause the cornea to become swollen and cloudy, resulting in vision loss,” he notes.
Parker says the research aims to understand how the endothelial membrane transport proteins SLC4A11 (that conducts protons) and SLC4A4 (that transports sodium and bicarbonate) help to maintain corneal hydration and transparency.
Specific aims of the study, titled “Investigating the Action and Physiological Role of SLC4A11 in the Cornea,” are:
“Ultimately, we want to gain an understanding of why SLC4A11 and SLC4A4 mutations cause vision loss,” Parker says.
The current treatment paradigm for corneal disease is transplant, which is associated with the traditional challenges of donor availability, viability of stored corneas and allograft rejection, as well as technical challenges in pediatric patients.
Parker says the research project is aligned with the mission of the Corneal Diseases Program of the NEI, which is to apply knowledge from basic science discoveries to the understanding of the physiology of the cornea and to the treatment of corneal diseases such as Fuchs’ dystrophy and congenital hereditary endothelial dystrophy.
“The work may inspire novel molecular therapies that could obviate the need for corneal transplants,” he says.