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    Understanding AMD at a cellular level

    Meet a researcher: Dr Ting Zhang

    Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in Australia. But despite the alarming statistics, the exact cause of AMD isn’t clear.

    Young researcher Dr Ting Zhang, from the Save Sight Institute, is conducting a project that she hopes will provide some answers.

    Her project is titled ‘Activating endogenous phosphoglycerate dehydrogenase (PHGDH) to treat age-related macular degeneration with the help of a Müller cell-specific lipid nanocarrier’. While the project title may be difficult to understand for the layperson, it has impressed MDFA’s Research Grants Panel.

    Dr Zhang has been awarded $45,000 under the new Grant Family Fund, set up to provide funding for early career researchers, embarking on ‘blue sky’ projects with the potential to shift our thinking on macular disease.

    The Grant Family Fund was established as a result of a generous bequest from the late Faye Grant. It honours the lives of Faye and her late father Ronald Grant, who lived with AMD.

    Dr Zhang’s project

    While the causes of AMD aren’t known, there is evidence that suggests stress in particular retinal cells – called Müller cells – is related to the occurrence and development of AMD.

    Dr Zhang is looking at errors that occur in chemical reactions at a cellular level that may make the macula more vulnerable to stress and therefore more likely to develop macular degeneration.

    This project will focus on a chemical function of the eye called the serine synthesis pathway and a particular enzyme, called phosphoglycerate dehydrogenase (PHGDH), and it’s important in combatting oxidative and mitochondrial stress in Müller cells. A gene manipulation system will be used to activate the PHGDH enzyme, which will be delivered by Müller cell-targeting lipid nanoparticles. The findings will provide novel insights into understanding the role of serine synthesis in the way AMD develops. It’s hoped the laboratory research will one day contribute to the development of a new treatment for AMD.

    Posted: 19 May 2021

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