Diego Pafundo Receives Grant from the Knights Templar Eye Foundation
By Jocelyn Duffy
PITTSBURGH—Diego Pafundo, a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Biological Sciences, has received a $60,000 Career-Starter Research Grant from the Knights Templar Eye Foundation to investigate a new treatment strategy for amblyopia, commonly referred to as “lazy eye.”
Amblyopia affects between 1 and 5 percent of the population, and is the most common cause of vision problems in children. In children with amblyopia, the neural pathways between one eye and the brain do not develop properly, resulting in impaired vision in the eye. This causes the brain to disregard signals from the affected eye, making it so the child’s two eyes don’t work together.
Due to the plasticity of neural networks in the developing brain, amblyopia can easily be treated in children under the age of 5. However, if amblyopia goes untreated until after this age, the neural networks become more entrenched, making most therapies ineffective.
Recent discoveries made by Pafundo’s advisor, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Sandra J. Kuhlman, and colleagues have helped to identify the neuronal circuitry that underlies amblyopia. Pafundo will target this circuitry to develop a non-invasive strategy to reverse the permanent vision effects of untreated amblyopia. Under the grant, Pafundo will coax the mature, less malleable neurons to revert to the earlier, more plastic state in which they exist during early development. He will then see if the neurons become more responsive, giving them the ability to properly rewire the brain’s visual circuitry, leading to improved vision.
The Knights Templar Eye Foundation seeks to improve vision through research, education and supporting access to care. The Career-Starter Research Grants fund scientists and physicians at the beginning of their academic careers who plan to conduct research on vision diseases that can be treated or prevented. For more information, please visit: http://www.knightstemplar.org/ktef/