June 29, 2016: A
Clarke University student research project studying the effects of certain
drugs in the treatment of glaucoma will continue thanks to a grant from the
R.J. McElroy Trust.
There are a variety of drugs that help alleviate the effects
of glaucoma. But not all drugs work on all people. Why do some drugs work
better than others? The Clarke University Biology Department has been doing
research on this topic since the summer of 2015 in an attempt to answer those
questions. It will share the results of this work with the Mayo Clinic. Laura
Hecker and Shaun Bowman, both assistant professors of Biology at Clarke, and
three students doing undergraduate research – Ryan Ryba, Theresa Koos and Paige
Peters – are working on the study in the Marie Miske Center of Science
Inquiry’s Student Research Lab.
“We are testing drugs that are used to lower pressure in the
eye for people who have glaucoma,” Hecker said. “These are the first line of
drugs that are typically used by people. However, it is not known exactly how
they lower pressure. So that is the overall question we’re trying to get at.
How do they act on the structure of the eye to lower pressure?
“The funding from the recent McElroy grant will allow us to
purchase the supplies needed to continue our work studying the role of the
HEF-1 protein in human ocular cells.”
Glaucoma is actually a group of diseases that result in the
death of neurons in the optic nerve. The eye continually produces fluid that
exits the eye where the cornea and iris meet, an area called the trabecular
meshwork. When the fluid drains too slowly through this meshwork, pressure
builds in the eye. This pressure on the
optic nerve can lead to the death of these neurons at the back of the eye and
cause a loss of vision.
“You have to alleviate the pressure somehow or it’s going to
start to press on the back part of the eye,” said Hecker. “Those cells start
dying in glaucoma and if they start dying they can’t be replaced in the retina
and there is loss of vision. Loss usually starts out on the periphery. One of
the bad things about glaucoma is it’s asymptomatic. There’s not a lot of pain.
You may not notice vision loss until you’ve had some death of cells back
Through the research, Peters has analyzed the expression of
HEF-1 protein in ocular cells at several time points following drug treatment
and determined that HEF-1 is maximally expressed at five hours after drug
“We are currently working with two high school students as
part of CUSSP (Clarke University Summer Scholarly Program) to verify her
findings,” Hecker said. “Using this new information, the focus of our current
grant is to determine the function of HEF-1 in the cell. To that end,
Ryan and Paige will now conduct experiments to analyze the partner proteins
that interact and work with HEF-1 in the cell following drug
treatment. This work, which will require the majority of the grant funds,
will primarily be completed this summer.”
The Clarke team obtained human eye cell lines last summer
from the Mayo Clinic. These are cells isolated from donor eyes that do not have
glaucoma but cannot be used for cornea transplants for various reasons. They
cultivate the cells from the drainage area and test various drugs on them.
Clarke has received $1,045 from the R.J. McElroy Trust to
continue this work.
For more information, contact the
Clarke University Marketing and Communication Office at (563)588-6318.