New discoveries aid understanding of the visual system
Photography by Tom McKenzie
Excerpted from page 56 of the March/April 2022 edition of AOA Focus.
Timothy Plageman Jr., Ph.D., associate professor at The Ohio State University College of Optometry, is the recipient of the AOA’s Investigator Initiated Research Award. This award is intended to support innovative, independent research relative to the continuum of eye and vision care.
Learn more about Dr. Plageman’s research.
Why did you pursue this line of research?
As a cell and developmental biologist, I have had a long-standing interest in understanding the function of protein complexes that mediate adhesion between cells during the development and physiology of the visual system. This is an important subject of investigation because adhesion between cells of the lens is thought to be essential to maintain tissue transparency and refract light. By studying lens cell adhesion, we could ascertain why these functions fail and cause the lens to become opaque during cataract rogression.
What is the premise for your research?
Recently, we discovered that a particular gene that encodes a cell adhesion protein (called ARVCF) is required to maintain transparency of the lens with age in mice. As it turns out, mutations in a distinct but very similar gene with a different name (CTNND2) are associated with cortical cataracts and myopia in people, but its role in the lens has not yet been determined. We plan to identify the role this protein plays in lens cells.
How can this data help inform our understanding of eye disease?
We were surprised to find that the CTNND2 protein is only found in a specialized adhesion structure that forms at the conjunction of three distinct lens cells. Because of CTNND2’s association with lens disorders, it demonstrates that this adhesion structure may not function normally and may underlie the etiology of cataracts and/or myopia.
Why is it important for optometry to be involved in basic research?
Elucidating the mechanisms and processes that underlie how the visual system functions serves as a basis for advances in biomedicine that can help protect and improve vision.
How far off is the immediate clinical impact of any findings?
The clinical impact of basic science research is always difficult to predict. However, the discoveries made from this research can not only aid our understanding of the visual system but also increase our knowledge of other scientific and clinical areas. For example, because disruptions to CTNND2 have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, as well as cataracts and myopia, the results from this study have the potential to inform us how it functions in cells of the brain and the pathophysiology of dementia and other types of neurological disorders.
AOA Investigator Initiated Research Award
Apply for the AOA’s Investigator Initiated Research Award.
The American Diabetes Association® (ADA) reported, in time for National Diabetes Month in November, that total annual costs of diabetes in 2022 was $412.9 billion, most of it in direct medical costs. How can doctors of optometry help in the fight to lower the prevalence of diabetes?
Doctors of optometry should consider the benefits of adding office-based laser procedures, such as YAG capsulotomy (after cataract surgery) or selective laser trabeculoplasty (SLT, for glaucoma), to their practice.
Doctors of optometry are performing office-based laser procedures in 11 states, as AOA affiliates have seen historic scope expansion wins in the past four years and momentum continues to build. Doctors of optometry are pursuing legislation in other states that would allow them to serve their patients at the highest level of their education and training. Some of these optometrists, who have performed hundreds of laser procedures, share key considerations in providing this care to patients.