Researchers within the UNM School of Medicine recently received a $1.68 million grant from the National Eye Institute to investigate the role played by proteinase enzymes and of a little studied growth factor called hepatocyte growth factor, in the degradation of the eye as a result of diabetic retinopathy.

This is especially important research in a state such as New Mexico where Hispanics and Native Americans are acquiring the disease at a faster rate than the national average for Anglos.

Angiogenesis, or growth of new vessels in the retina is a common complication of diabetic retinopathy and is the leading cause of blindness in the USA among working-age adults. The condition is responsible for between 12,000 to 24,000 new cases of blindness each year making diabetes the leading cause of new cases of blindness in adults 20-64 years of age.

Principal investigator of this grant is Arup Das, M.D., Ph.D., Chief, Ophthalmology, Associate Professor, and Department of Surgery. Co-PI is Paul McGuire, Ph.D., Chairman of Cell Biology & Physiology. The two have been collaborating together since 1995 in the field of angiogenesis in the eye.

An important event in the angiogenesis cascade is the breakdown of the cellular matrix, and invasion and migration of cells of the existing blood vessels. This step is partially dependent upon the expression and activity of proteinases, enzymes that degrade the matrix. The grant will examine the role of a specific molecule, plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1), an endogenous inhibitor of the proteinase urokinase, during the angiogenesis. The investigator will also explore the role of a novel growth factor, hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) that has received little attention in the regulation of the retinal angiogenesis process. Dr. Das and his colleagues in the lab have shown the increased expression of the HGF in early stages of retinal angiogenesis.

"Results of these studies will allow us to further define the mechanisms involved in the formation of new vessels in the retina which can lead to serious visual complications," Das remarked. "We will find out whether a specific stage of the angiogenic process is an appropriate target for therapeutic intervention. Such an approach will provide a rational basis for the development of potentially powerful and effective therapeutics for ocular neovascularization."

Das and McGuire have recently received another grant from the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation for their work on the role of proteinases in macular edema, another common cause of vision loss in diabetic retinopathy.


Contact: Cindy Foster, 272-3322