Researchers study zebrafish to find cure for human blindness

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Ivanhoe Newswire – Age-related macular degeneration affects 11 million people in the U.S. and that number is expected to nearly double by 2050. Now researchers are looking into how a unique characteristic of a zebrafish can regenerate retinas in humans and keep people seeing as they age.

These fish might be tiny, but they come with some supersized powers.

Professor David J. Calkins, PhD, director of Vanderbilt Vision Research Center, told Ivanhoe, “Zebrafish, unlike mammals, are able to regenerate parts of their retina if they become injured.”

That is why researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center are studying how this characteristic of zebrafish can help humans dealing with age-related vision loss due to damage to the retina.

“The cells that make up the retina between the fish and the human eye are very, very similar,” James Patton, PhD, professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt University, said.

Except for one cell called MG for muller glia. In a zebrafish when that cell is damaged, it will activate and then regenerate.

“So, the fish will go from blind to about two-and-a-half weeks later, total regain of eyesight,” Patton said.

Humans have the same muller glia cell but are incapable of regeneration like the zebrafish. But researcher Patton is trying to find out if suppressing a certain type of Micro RNA in humans could activate muller glia the same way it does in zebrafish. Currently, the economic burden for eye disorders and vision loss sits at 139 million dollars. But …

“If there were ways to keep people seeing and overcome degenerative disorders, that would have a huge economic impact, not to mention quality of life,” Patton explained.

Possibly giving millions the opportunity to see again.

Interestingly, the zebrafish is used often to study human traits and diseases because they share 70 percent of humans' genetic code. Before human testing, they will have to test on smaller mammals, such as mice and see if they can suppress a particular Micro-RNA that regulates the muller glia cell.

Contributors to this news report include: Milvionne Chery, Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer; Ken Ashe, Editor.