Marina Gorbatyuk, PhD, associate professor of vision science, has been awarded a National Institutes of Health $297,000 R21 grant to study an animal model for the treatment of diabetic retinopathy and improve the sight of patients with the condition.

"By generating and delineating a new model with the most novel phenotypes such as cone photoreceptor dysfunction, we lay the groundwork for a better understanding of DR pathophysiology and open an avenue for improving the treatment of human eye diseases," Gorbatyuk said.

Several animal models have been used to study the cellular and molecular basis of DR and the models have shown that hyperglycemia is sufficient to injure neurons. Although these models have been tested, it is still not understood how cone photoreceptor cells deteriorate with compromised insulin tolerance.

The northern tree shrew is one of the closest living relatives to primates that have cone-dominant retina. Therefore, tree shrews are the perfect models for this project that will closely imitate human DR. Researchers will tests the tree shews to determine if the trees react to diabetes like humans.

This will further the research to restore the sight of diabetic patients. By obtaining a non-primate model, UAB will be able to build a foundation for a better understanding of DR and how to improve the treatment for it.