April 3, 2009

Zebra fish used to study blindness

Experiments with zebra fish are helping identify genes linked to retinal diseases that cause blindness, a Purdue University scientist said.

Once we know the genetic network that influences retinal development, we can begin to understand the changes in specific genes that lead to vision loss, Yuk Fai Leung said.

With such information, treatments could be developed to prevent or reverse diseases such as macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, he said.

Using zebra fish, which are closer to humans in eye development than mice or other animal models, a Purdue team developed a new analysis method for analyzing key genes linked to retinal development.

The method can examine thousands of genes and analyze several experimental changes simultaneously, allowing scientists to understand how one change leads to another in degenerative diseases, Leung said.

Retinal degenerative diseases are some of the leading causes of blindness and low vision in an estimated 3.3 million people age 40 and older in the United States, the National Eye Institute said.