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WVU scientist studying the retinal metabolism to reveal underlying causes of retinal diseases

WVU scientist studying the retinal metabolism to reveal underlying causes of retinal diseases

Jianhai Du, PhD., has begun a four-year project to investigate the metabolic needs of the retina for survival and function. The project and findings will advance the understanding of metabolic regulation of retinal health and diseases.

The retina has an extremely active metabolism that is needed to process light signals into electrical signals for the body. The study by Du explores metabolic interactions to better understand how the eye works.

“Issues with the metabolism affect the retina in humans,” Du said. “In understanding the malfunction of the metabolism in the retina, we may be able to use it to treat certain retinal diseases.”

The eye has a special addiction to glucose by metabolic collaborations among photoreceptors and their supporting cells like a metabolic ecosystem. The metabolic defects of the supporting cells can cause photoreceptors to die, leading to blindness in diseases such as age-related macular degeneration. However, scientists still do not understand how this metabolic ecosystem operates to control retinal health and survival.

“One of the studies we are doing is looking at a mitochondrial transporter that controls glucose flow,” Du said. “The transporter is like a door, or gate, so we can close it in different eye tissues to understand the metabolic network and to see how that will impact the eye.”

In an experiment on mice, Du found that when the mitochondrial transporter for glucose metabolism was blocked in the photoreceptors, the mice’s vision declines with degeneration.

The study is being funded by the National Institute of Health and the National Eye Institute. For more information on Du’s research, visit