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FAU Researcher Receives Stimulus Funds to Further Investigate Therapeutics to Treat Age-related Diseases of the Eye  

BOCA RATON, FL (August 11, 2009) – Florida Atlantic University researcher Dr. Marc Kantarow, professor of biomedical sciences in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Biomedical Science, has received a $250,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as part of the 2009 Federal Stimulus package. This is the first stimulus grant awarded to the College this year.

Kantorow and his colleagues will use this grant to investigate and delineate the mechanisms of cataracts and macular degeneration, two of the most prevalent age-related diseases of the eye. Information gained from their research may potentially impact the design of therapeutics to treat cataracts and macular degeneration, including prevention of these diseases. Kantorow’s research is currently funded by the NIH for $1.5 million.

August is Cataract Awareness Month, drawing attention to this prevalent ocular disease which afflicts so many worldwide.  Cataracts are a clouding of the lens in the eye that affects vision. Most cataracts are related to aging and are common in older people. More than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery by the age of 80.  Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease associated with aging that gradually destroys sharp, central vision which is needed for seeing objects clearly and for common daily tasks such as reading and driving. AMD affects the macula, the part of the eye that allows you to see fine detail.

Kantorow’s research is based on the premise that the eye has evolved several key protective and repair systems that maintain its function and that an age-related decrease in the function of these key repair systems contributes to age-related cataracts and macular degeneration.

A hallmark of human aging is oxidation of protein methionines to protein methionine sulfoxide (PMSO). PMSO levels increase in the human lens with age and in human age-related cataracts; 60 percent of total lens protein is found as PMSO, which causes loss of protein function, protein aggregation and cell death. However, to date, the role of PMSO in aging, cataract and macular degeneration has not been established. One key to unlocking the role of PMSO ocular disease is to identify those repair mechanisms that the eye has evolved to defend against PMSO damage and those proteins whose functions are lost upon methionine sulfoxide (MSO) formation.

“We’ve discovered that a novel protein and repair enzyme called methionine suilfoxide reductase A (MsrA) is essential for ocular defense against oxidative stress, viability, and defense against cataract formation,” said Kantorow. “Studies of the role of MrsA are ongoing, but we hope that the information we obtain from our research will help us develop new therapies for the treatment of these widespread ocular diseases.”

Currently, the only therapy for the treatment of cataracts is surgery, and to date, no therapies exist for 90 percent of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) cases.  According to the article “Important Causes of Visual Impairment in the World Today,” published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, both of these diseases are the most common causes of vision loss in older Americans.  Cataracts are responsible for the blindness of about 18 million people worldwide, and macular degeneration currently afflicts approximately 25-30 million people globally. This number is expected to steadily increase if new therapies are not found.

- FAU -

Florida Atlantic University opened its doors in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. Today, the University serves more than 26,000 undergraduate and graduate students on seven campuses strategically located along 150 miles of Florida's southeastern coastline. Building on its rich tradition as a teaching university, with a world-class faculty, FAU hosts ten colleges:  College of Architecture, Urban & Public Affairs, Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts & Letters, the Charles E. Schmidt College of Biomedical Science, the Barry Kaye College of Business, the College of  Education, the College of  Engineering & Computer Science, the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, the Graduate College,  the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science.  

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