Mission The mission of the Nutrition & Vision Research Team is to discover mechanisms of aging, particularly in the eye, and seek nutritional and other new means to delay age-related debilities such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataract. These are the primary blinding diseases. Because many age related diseases have in common the accumulation of cytotoxic proteins, our research focuses on the adverse effects of protein damage and cellular means to remove that damage in order to prolong organ function. More specifically, we examine how the ubiquitin proteolytic pathway and autophagic-lysosomal proteolytic pathways cooperate, to remove damaged proteins and maintain homeostasis. Most recently we have devoted considerable capacity to elucidating why consuming higher glycemia diets (such as the typical American diet) causes accelerated rates of AMD and cataract, and how dietary management and new therapies can be directed to reduce sugar-induced damage in many bodily tissues. These studies required that we exploit modern metabolomic and microbiome tools to functionally complete a comprehensive picture of how dietary glycemia, eye function, aging, the metabolome and microbiome are related. In turn, the findings are leading us to novel metabolic networks that involve diet, multiple metabolites and the microbiome. Additional interests involve elucidating functions of the ubiquitin proteolytic pathways in regulation of cell proliferation, migration and differentiation, and epidemiologic dietary pattern analyses. We also explore relationships between protein damage and inflammation upon stress and aging.
Objectives 1. Identify nutritional factors that are causally related to onset, prevalence and progress of age-related macular degeneration and cataract. Design diets, dietary supplements, natural or pharmacologic agents to delay these diseases. Identify and harness proteolytic pathways to retain cellular and tissue function upon stress and aging.2. Utilize modern metabolomic and microbiome tools to funcitonally relate diet, risk for aging and age-related eye diseases, the metabolome and microbiome.
3. Identify mechanisms by which retina and lens function are maintained throughout life.
4. Utilize new epidemiologic tools, including diet pattern analyses, to relate diet to eye function.
Team Members Allen Taylor, Ph.D.
Lead Scientist, Senior Scientist
Research focus: relationships between oxidative stress, protein metabolism, nutrient intake and risk for cataract and age-related retinopathy
Eloy Bejarano-Fernandez, Ph.D.
Research Focus: Functional relationship between autophagy and intercellular communication under physiological or pathological conditions in the context of eye physiology, aging and nutritional manipulation
Sheldon Rowan, Ph.D.
Research Focus: The role of the dietary glycemia in the development of age-related macular degeneration and its role in aging, metabolism and microbiome. Discovery of networks that involve diet, multiple metabolites and the microbiome. Role of the ubiquitin proteolysis pathway in regulating lens development and differentiation. Elucidation of molecular mechanisms that direct lens fiber cell denucleation
Elizabeth Whitcomb, Ph.D.
Research focus: Defining the function of specific ubiquitinating enzymes in regulation of cell division and differentiation in lens and retina cells/tissues; determining roles for the ubiquitin pathway in recognition and removal of damaged proteins
Jasper Weinberg, Ph.D., Research Associate Kelsey Smith, M.S., Graduate Student Yuilyn Chang Chusan, Staff Assistant Jenna M. Sills, Research Administrator Giuliana Perini, Research Technician