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New Purdue lab focused on finding drugs to prevent vision loss


Purdue University is collaborating with the Joint Shantou International Eye Center to search for new drugs based on traditional Chinese medicines to improve vision and treat retinal degeneration.

Purdue and the Joint Shantou International Eye Center of Shantou University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong established a joint laboratory based at Purdue that will use zebrafish as a model to screen compounds that may have visual benefits.

Retinal degeneration causes irreversible vision loss and is the result of a wide range of disorders and diseases that affect millions of children and adults worldwide. Such diseases that damage the thin tissue of the retina include retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disorder that is estimated to affect 1.5 million people globally, and age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss in North America, according to the Foundation Fighting Blindness.

"There are not many effective treatments available for retinal degeneration, but the vision loss is usually a gradual process, which means there is a significant window for intervention," said Yuk Fai Leung, an assistant professor of biological sciences at Purdue who leads the research. "Drugs or therapies that could slow the progression of the disease could allow people to hold onto their vision longer and greatly improve their quality of life."

This joint laboratory is one component of a partnership that draws on the complementary strengths of Purdue and the Joint Shantou International Eye Center.

"The partnership connects clinical and basic research so that we can identify a problem in patients, take it back to the laboratory for study, develop and test new therapies, and then bring back a solution to the patients," he said. "We hope to pinpoint the compounds in these traditional herbs that are influencing vision and use them as a model to create even more effective and safe compounds for treatment."

The Joint Shantou International Eye Center has access to the traditional medicines and expertise in compound characterization, and an extensive clinical infrastructure and patient database, while Purdue has strengths in drug discovery, design and development, he said.

Researchers will measure the response to light stimulus in zebrafish with retinal degeneration or other visual impairments that have been treated with a potential therapeutic compound, Leung said.

"Zebrafish models fill a significant gap in drug discovery between cellular assays and testing in larger animal models," he said. "This testing will help to identify lead candidates and narrow down the compounds that will move forward along the drug discovery pipeline."

Compounds that show promise will be further developed through Purdue's Bindley Biosciences Center and Center for Drug Discovery.

Dr. Liyun Zhang, a former postdoctoral researcher in Leung's research team, assisted in the development of this research and collaboration. Richard Kuhn, the Gerald and Edna Mann Director of the Bindley Biosciences Center and head of the Department of Biological Sciences, and Marietta Harrison, associate vice president for research and professor of medicinal chemistry and molecular pharmacology, played an advisory role in the establishment of this partnership. Collaborators from the Joint Shantou International Eye Center include Dr. Ming-zhi Zhang, a professor and executive vice director of the center, and Calvin Chi-Pui Pang, director of the center, and S.H. Ho Professor of Visual Sciences and chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Writer: Elizabeth K. Gardner, 765-494-2081,

Source: Yuk Fai Leung, 765-496-3153,

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