April 24, 2020

Ryan Thummel wins WSU President’s award to support collaborative vision loss research

Ryan Thummel, Ph.D., associate professor of Ophthalmology, Visual and Anatomical Sciences, has won the Wayne State University 2020-2021 President’s Career Development Chair Award.

Ryan Thummel
Ryan Thummel, Ph.D.

The award will support a collaboration with Associate Professor Tiffany Cook, Ph.D., of the Center for Molecular Medicine and Genetics, and of the Department of Ophthalmology, Visual and Anatomical Sciences, that aims to define therapeutic intervention points for chronic vision loss.

“I am honored to receive this award. I am especially grateful as it will foster the collaboration I have with Dr. Tiffany Cook and lead to preliminary data for seeking additional extramural funding for this project,” Dr. Thummel said.

Each year, millions lose vision due to chronic degenerative diseases like glaucoma, retinitis pigmentosa, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.

“However, therapeutic options for patients are remarkably limited, in part because the biological events underlying these retinopathies are only starting to be understood. Glia facilitate and protect nervous system function and health. However, damage to human retina results in a scar-like ‘gliotic’ response from glia, and a breakdown of their normal support functions,” he said.

The study aims to identify genetic pathways that differ in glia when they play a supportive role instead of a gliotic response.

“It is our hope that this will provide an essential new platform for identifying points of intervention needed to preserve visual function under chronic stress conditions,” Dr. Thummel added.

The researchers received a grant (R21EY031526) from the National Eye Institute to support the project, “Comparative Analysis of Retinal Glial Support Programs.” Dr. Cook is lead principal investigator of the two-year project.

“It takes advantage of chronic light-induced retinal degeneration models we coordinately developed in our laboratories, which we are currently characterizing at the molecular, cellular and genetic levels. Because these models are particularly amenable to large-scale genetic, behavioral and pharmacological-based screens, our work provides the groundwork necessary for developing a new ‘bench-to-bedside’ pipeline aimed at combatting neurodegenerative conditions such as vision loss,” Dr. Cook said.