Trio of UMass Chan researchers are receiving awards for their studies of age-related macular degeneration

Three researchers from the UMass Chan University School of Medicine are receiving awards from the Macular Degeneration Fund of America as part of a $1.1 million nonprofit investment in studies aimed at disease prevention, risk reduction and new treatments for age-related macular degeneration.

Claudio Ponzo, Ph.D

Claudio Ponzo, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences; Joanna Seddon, MD, professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences. And Shun Yunqing, PhD, 22, a postdoctoral research fellow in Dr. Bonzu’s lab, is among eight recipients of an expanded round of grants from the fund.

Punzo has received $300,000 from the American Macular Degeneration Research Foundation to Prevent Inducible Blindness to support his work developing a new, long-term, cost-effective treatment for patients with wet age-related macular degeneration. He collaborates with Anastasia Khvorova, Ph.D., and Remondi Family Chair in Biomedical Research and Professor of RNA Therapies, on research.

Punzo describes wet age-related macular degeneration as new blood vessels breaking away from the back of the eye toward the retina. The blood vessels leak, causing a buildup of blood fluid in the neural retina.

Current treatment requires frequent injections — about once a month — of an antibody that acts like a sponge to absorb the growths in the lining of blood vessels. Dr. Bonzo and Dr. Khvorova are developing an siRNA approach that stabilizes the eye for up to six months.

Joanna Seddon, MD, ScM

“The siRNA treatment we are developing is injected directly into the eye, and spreads to the back of the eye. By inhibiting the action of vascular endothelial growth factor, you essentially reduce the growth of blood vessels. So, if someone has this blood leaking in the eye, it will be treated immediately.”

The Punzo Prize is funded by Research to Prevent Blindness and the American Macular Degeneration Foundation for innovative research approaches to age-related macular degeneration.

Dr. Seddon is receiving an extension of the Macular Degeneration Foundation of America’s Breakthrough Award to continue her work on new biological pathways associated with age-related macular degeneration and to identify novel therapeutic targets.

Shun Yunqing, Ph.D. 22

Seddon is the founder and director of the Center of Excellence for Macular Degeneration in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. Seddon, who specializes in macular degeneration, discovered the link between age-related macular degeneration and dietary intake of the fatty acids lutein, zeaxanthin, and omega-3s, as well as the benefit of a Mediterranean-style diet in reducing the rate of progression to the advanced stages of age-related macular degeneration.

Dr. Cheng received a Young Investigator Leadership Award from the Macular Degeneration Foundation of America to help fund her research on photoreceptors as initiators of the development of age-related macular degeneration. Cheng discovered abnormal upregulation of the metabolite receptors on the cells of patients with age-related macular degeneration. I created an animal model by simulating the diseased metabolic stage in a mouse. Cheng is involved in developing a potential treatment that could prevent the progression of age-related macular degeneration.

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