Ashland U Professor Studies Fish To Combat Cataracts

  • 3/20/2019 5:42:24 PM
  • Jenna Ramolt
  • Local News

ASHLAND, OH - This Ashland University Biology Professor has been working with undergraduate students for the past three years to uncover what Zebrafish can tell us about cataracts, which are the greatest source of human blindness worldwide.

Dr. Mason Posner and his students recently published this study (which was funded by the National Institute of Health) in the online open access journal, PLOS ONE. Their main focus was how a particular type of Zebrafish develops eye lens cataracts. According to Dr. Posner, this type of fish has been used by researchers for years due to its low cost and high rate of reproduction.

"Back in the 1970s people started working with this little fish that you can get at the pet store," Dr. Posner said. "Someone realized back then that, because they can lay eggs outside their body and the shells of the eggs are see-through, that you can watch these animals develop under a microscope in real-time. So we've been working with these since 1999, using Zebrafish to understand how the lens works and what causes cataracts, or cloudiness, in the lens."

Hundreds of these fish are under the care of Dr. Posner and five of his undergraduate students. Posner's group has been raising the fish from fertilization and making changes to their genetic code, trying to find the DNA behind the production of cataracts.

This particular kind of Zebrafish has a sick heart and has been used for years to study how the heart and blood cells work. Dr. Posner's interest was in figuring out why these fish have cloudy lenses. He says they have partially answered that question, and now can use this fish's eye to understand how cataracts occur in humans and how they might be prevented.

"The eventual goal of the research would be to test these cataract prevention strategies," Dr. Posner said. "So, can you modify genes to more effectively prevent cataracts as we age.... if we're able to add things to the lens, or modify genes, can you modify things in a way that the proteins in the lens are less likely to produce this cloudiness going forward?"

Posner believes that this research could eventually lead to studies on the development and even the prevention of human eye lens cataracts. For now, Posner says the next step is to begin studying how to prevent cataracts in Zebrafish, at which point the study can possibly be applied to humans so Posner's group can begin learning more about how to stifle the leading cause of human blindness.

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