January 8, 2021

Local foundation funds diabetes research for 21st year

The Michigan-based Thomas Foundation has renewed its support of diabetic retinopathy research at the Wayne State University School of Medicine for the 21st continuous year. This year’s funding will be used to investigate the role of long noncoding RNAs in the disease.

Renu Kowluru, Ph.D.

Professor of Ophthalmology, Visual and Anatomical Sciences Renu Kowluru, Ph.D., is the principal investigator on the grant.

Retinopathy, the most common cause of acquired blindness in young adults and in diabetic patients, results from damage to the small blood vessels in the retina. All people with diabetes are at risk of developing retinopathy, and the risk increases the longer a person has diabetes.

The retina experiences increased oxidative stress in diabetes. A long noncoding RNA, or LncRNA, is a molecule that isn’t translated into a protein, and regulates gene expression. A study by Dr. Kowluru and postdoctoral fellow Rakesh Radhakrishnan, Ph.D., “Long Noncoding RNA MALAT1 and Regulation of the Antioxidant Defense System in Diabetic Retinopathy,” was published this month in Diabetes, the journal of the American Diabetes Association. It revealed that one particular lncRNA regulates antioxidant defense in diabetic retinopathy. Inhibition of LncRNA MALAT1 has the potential to protect the retina from oxidative damage and to prevent or slow diabetic retinopathy.

More than 20% of Type 2 diabetic patients at the time of their diagnosis of diabetes also have some form of retinopathy.

Dr. Kowluru’s lab researches the molecular mechanism of diabetic retinopathy and the metabolic memory associated with its continued progression, focusing on the mitochondrial damage and the role of epigenetics in the pathogenesis of this blinding disease. She is the course coordinator for the clinical and basic science course in Ophthalmology-Bench to Bedside and a course co-coordinator of Biology of the Eye. She co-directs a course on Diabetic Retinopathy during annual meetings of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.

Her research is supported by the Thomas Foundation and three R01 grants from the National Eye Institute. She is director of Translational Research for the Department of Ophthalmology, Visual and Anatomical Sciences.

Dr. Kowluru was tapped by the American Diabetes Association last February to join the Eye Health Interest Group Leadership Team, and also was appointed that June to the National Eye Advisory Council of the National Institutes of Health.

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