Rochester University researcher awarded 2017 Shaffer Prize
14 years in the making
Using funds from the Shaffer Grants to Innovative Glaucoma Research in 2015, Dr. Libby has been able to begin unraveling the molecular pathway that controls axonal injury signaling and axonal degeneration leading to the neurodegeneration and the resulting loss of vision that is glaucoma.
There are currently no drugs or other therapies directly aimed at neuroprotection in glaucoma. That means patients have limited treatment options to prevent the progression of vision loss that is typical of glaucoma.
Understanding how retinal ganglion cells are injured, degenerate, and ultimately die is a long-term undertaking. Dr. Libby’s search for the pathway, leading to axonal degeneration and glaucoma, began about 12 years ago in the laboratory of Simon John, PhD, professor and Howard Hughes Medical Investigator, Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor, ME.
Researchers found a mouse mutant that was known to lessen axonal degeneration and protected the incidence of glaucomatous neurodegeneration in an ocular hypertensive model of glaucoma. What no one knew was how this mutation worked to protect retinal ganglion cell axons.
As the cell biology of axons was explored, researchers began to identify specific molecules that are present at different times during the life cycle of retinal ganglion cells. Dr. Libby hypothesized that a molecule that was known to play a role in axonal degeneration in other systems, SARM1, could be critical for axonal degeneration in retinal ganglion cells.