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Monica L. Vetter, PhD, Neurobiology and Anatomy Department Chair
University of Utah, Salt lake City, UT
Monica Vetter is one of the four principal investigators in the Catalyst For a Cure research consortium funded by the Glaucoma Research Foundation.
The Vetter lab is studying glaucoma at the molecular level to understand how genetics influence and determine the fate of neurons in the retina and central nervous system. Their goal is to reveal principles governing cell biology that will lead to new disease treatments. In this video, Dr. Vetter discusses:
- Transcript -
Monica Vetter: My area of expertise is really gene regulation and signaling pathways in both development and in disease in this process. More recently, our laboratory has really been focusing on the cells other than the retinal ganglion cells that might be participating in the progression of this disease — so we know that within the retina, as well as in the optic nerve, there are other non-neuronal cell populations that are changing dynamically over time in this disease.
What we have learned is that some of these changes are among the earliest events that we can see. So, even before we see decline of the neurons themselves we can see that these cells are changing and responding, and potentially impacting the health of the retinal ganglion cells either positively or negatively. So, we are really trying to focus in on the significance of some of these changes — and we have been able to test some of these ideas, and we are beginning to think, at least at the earliest stages, that they are not beneficial.
The disease is — even though I focus on early stages — a gradual process. And even in a human patient, partway through the disease there may be part of the retina that has been diseased for quite a while and is severely affected, where another part of the retina is just starting to get sick. We think that by focusing on these early stages we may be able to stop progression in that part of the retina that is just starting to get sick and sort of put the brakes on the progression of the disease.
The goal is to find treatments that are going to translate into therapies in the clinic that may even benefit patients that have already started to lose vision but maybe still retain some vision and functionality. We want to be able to preserve that.
I think that in all understanding of any disease we really have to get to the heart of what’s happening to the tissue and to the cells — the mechanism, the process and the pathways, the signaling pathways that are involved.
These are events that we can then more specifically target with drugs or specific therapies. And I think what we have really learned over the last period of time that the consortium has been working on this, is that we are really starting to tease apart the players, both at the cellular level and also at the molecular level, so that we can be smarter about targeting those players and disabling the components that we think are destructive in this disease.
The work over the last period of time has allowed us to really come up with very thorough hypotheses or predictions about what we think is going on, and we are now in a position to really test those ideas directly, and also test whether specific therapies or treatments that target those events that we think are involved are actually going to slow or cure the disease.
I think the challenge is to take these predictions or hypotheses and over the next three years really translate that into rigorous testing of those ideas coupled with testing the efficiency of specific therapeutics or interventions that target the pathways we think are involved.
I think one of the things that has been really unique about this process for me is the opportunity to me as a scientist to meet with the families that are affected by the disease.
Every year, we come to the annual fundraiser, and we have an opportunity to meet with the donors, and many of these donors have family members who have lost vision or are in the process of losing vision, and it really brings home how important this work is. And this is a unique opportunity.
Many scientists will work on diseases but never really meet a patient who is affected. I think this has been really important for me to focus our efforts and constantly keep in mind that the goal of this has to be to treat and cure this disease and really hope that our work is advancing that effort.
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Last reviewed on January 16, 2018