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Monica L. Vetter, PhD, 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.
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Dr. Monica Vetter: The collaborative effort really enables us to take ideas and rapidly act on them by engaging all members of the consortium to contribute their expertise. We are able to do experiments much more quickly by distributing the effort.
Also, we don't have to reinvent the wheel in each laboratory and have each laboratory become expert in all of the methodology that is required.
I also think that it speeds the effort, in that, we share our best ideas with each other and critique these ideas. We can more rapidly hone in on the ideas that are likely to be most productive and discard the ones that are going to be less productive over time. This is a wonderful opportunity to work with other engaged people who are thinking about the same problem as you.
The back-and-forth intellectual component of this really moved this forward more quickly, because we are sharing things that we haven't shared with other scientists. I think this speeds the development of more innovative approaches to tackling the disease.
I actually think that there are two interesting things that are unique about this consortium.
One, the goal was to bring together scientists who were not currently working in the field of glaucoma - to bring a fresh perspective, to really think about and tackle this disease and really encourage collaboration between multiple laboratories. This was very distinct from the way that traditional biomedical research is supported and funded.
The other thing that was unique about the consortium was that there was a commitment on the part of the Glaucoma Research Foundation to invest in a group of scientists, to provide sufficient support and sufficient time to really develop the methodology and ideas and move things forward. It always takes a little bit of time when new people enter a field to get up to speed, become familiar and really start to apply some of those new ideas.
The Glaucoma Research Foundation was there every step of the way, providing continuous funding, encouragement and support for the work. That has really made a tremendous difference in allowing us to pursue riskier ideas and take chances that we wouldn't necessarily have taken if we had been forced to pursue traditional methods of funding for this work.
We need to be able to intervene at these early steps of the disease before there is significant, profound vision loss. We need to understand the basic biology of what's happening. What are the mechanisms that are driving things forward and leading to loss of vision?
We are focusing on changes that are happening within the retinal ganglion cells, which are the cells that are primarily affected in glaucoma. These are the cells that ultimately die in the disease.
We are also presenting ideas that show that there are actually very interesting interactions between the ganglion cells - the retinal ganglion cells - and other cell populations in the retina. This is a dynamic process that is changing over time, and then spreading throughout the retina as the disease progresses.
We hope that by focusing on these early, fundamental events and really getting to the heart of how these cells are interacting, we will be able to develop therapies that may slow or cure this disease.
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Last reviewed on January 16, 2018