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by Satina Richardson

Marina Gorbatyuk, PhD, has been awarded a three-year, $445,500, R01 grant co-funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Eye Institute (NEI).

She will study the effects of vesicants such as lewisite and nitrogen mustard. Exposure to vesicants typically results in skin blistering and corneal tissue damage in humans. 

“The eye is 10 times more susceptible to exposure to vesicant chemical warfare agents than other organs, for example, the skin or the respiratory tract,” Gorbatyuk says. “The lack of molecular understanding of the underlying mechanism driving the ocular tissue pathobiology in victims of vesicant exposures impedes the development of effective medical countermeasures. In this proposal, we attempt to uncover the key molecular signaling controlling acute and chronic stages of ocular injury because of direct exposure to vesicants.”

The long-term goal of the research is to generate effective medical countermeasures (MCMs) to prevent vesicant-induced ocular damage and promote healing. 

“Understanding the underlying mechanism responsible for the ocular damage and progressive ocular injuries resulting from vesicant exposure is critical to the development of effective mechanism-based MCMs,” Gorbatyuk says. 

A professor of vision science at the UAB School of Optometry, Gorbatyuk has received her third NEI R01 grant and the second grant to one currently funded. She received her second R01 in 2018. The $1.25 million five-year NEI grant studied the regulation of protein synthesis in photoreceptors of mice with inherited retinal degeneration. Gorbatyuk’s first grant was received in 2010, also for five years. It examined the activation of the unfolded protein response in mice with inherited retinal degeneration and validated therapeutic approaches based on cellular network reprogramming in degenerating photoreceptors.