Could Frogs Hold Cure for Glaucoma, Blindness? Washington & Lee Researchers Exploring

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Could Frogs Hold Cure for Glaucoma, Blindness? Washington & Lee Researchers Exploring

Post  Admin on Mon Oct 08, 2012 9:47 pm

By: Tim Ciesco | WSLS10, Published: September 25, 2012

They may not be not princes in disguise, but researchers at Washington & Lee University believe frogs hold a different kind of secret -- the secret to curing degenerative eye conditions, like glaucoma, in humans.

"We're doing some really new stuff," said Luke Deary, a Senior at Washington & Lee who is working on the project. "I hope it can spawn into something that really helps a lot of people."

When a frog's optic nerve -- the connector between the eye and the brain that allows it to see -- is damaged, it's able to regenerate that nerve. In other words, the frog can regain its sight.

That is not the case in humans or other mammals.

"The question is why frogs?" said Dr. Fiona Watson, an Assistant Professor of Biology and Neuroscience at Washington & Lee, who is leading the project.

It's a question she and a group of undergraduate students want to answer. Specifically, they want to figure out what genes in a frog turn on or off during that regeneration process.

"What we hope is we'll be able to figure out how the frogs can do it and see if there may be some therapy we can apply to the clinic," said Watson.

The frogs they're using in the study have been altered so that a group of cells in their eyes called retinal ganglion cells give off a green glow when observed through a special microscope. Watson says they do that to help distinguish these cells they want to study from other cells.

They begin by giving the frog an anesthetic, then very carefully go through its mouth to "crush" or damage the optic nerve in one eye. After about 35 days, when the optic nerve regenerates, they collect tissue samples from the frogs, which they study further. Finally, they send the samples off for gene sequencing.

"The frog genome and the human genome are very similar," said Watson.

While there's still a lot of research that has to take place before they're able to reach the end goal, the group says they're excited about what they're doing and what the future holds for their work.

"Just being a part of that is pretty great," said Bayan Misaghi, a sophomore at Washington & Lee, who is also working on the project.

Watson and her team are working with another group from Johns Hopkins University where researchers want to recreate the regeneration process in mice.

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