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Hemant Khanna awarded a grant from Foundation Fighting Blindness to study retinitis pigmentosa

Date Posted: Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Individual Investigator Research Grant application of Dr. Hemant Khanna, Associate Professor in the Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences, UMass Chan Medical School, has been selected for funding by the Foundation Fighting Blindness. The funding decisions are made through a rigorous review process of the Executive Scientific Advisory Board Committee, which consists of the field’s leading researchers.

"I am honored to be selected as one of the recipients of this prestigious award. This funding will go a long way in accomplishing our goals of developing novel treatments for blinding diseases," said Hemant Khanna. Dr. Khanna’s proposal entitled “Generation and characterization of a porcine model of a common cause of autosomal recessive retinitis pigmentosa (RP25)” focuses on studying a large close-to-human animal model of a common genetic blindness disorder RP25, due to mutations in the EYS (eyes shut homolog) gene.

The pig retina has a very similar retinal architecture to that of a human retina. “Our funded research represents the mission of the Advanced Ocular Therapeutics Program of the Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences at UMMS to carry out cutting-edge research to understand and design treatments for devastating blinding disorders. The collaborative environment and complimentary expertise of the UMMS faculty is best suited to accomplish these studies,” said Dr. Shlomit Schaal, Chair, Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences, UMass Chan Medical School.

This work is being carried out in collaboration with the groups of Dr. Heather Gray-Edwards and Dr. Jaime Rivera-Perez from the Horae Gene Therapy Center and Department of Pediatrics, respectively. Dr Rivera-Perez is an expert on mammalian embryology and will lead the pig embryo micromanipulations. Dr Gray-Edwards is a renowned large animal gene therapy researcher who will oversee multiple aspects of pig reproductive biology and phenotype analysis in collaboration with Rachael Gately at Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.

Additional collaborators include Dr. Guangping Gao, Director of the Horae Gene Therapy Center and Dr. Erik Sontheimer, RNA Therapeutics Institute. Dr. Terence Flotte, Dean of UMass Chan Medical School has also committed support of this research and has been instrumental in developing the collaboration between UMMS and the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.

The Khanna Lab is also working on developing novel models and treatments for Leber congenital amaurosis, some forms of retinitis pigmentosa, Usher Syndrome, and Stargardt Disease.

Left: A Fundus image of a pig eye showing the retina and blood vessels. Right: A cross section of the region of the fundus denoted by the green line shows the different retinal layers. GCL: ganglion cell layer; IPL: inner plexiform layer; INL: inner nuclear layer; OPL: outer plexiform layer; ONL: outer nuclear layer; ELM: external limiting membrane; RPE: retinal pigmented epithelium. The layered architecture is similar to that of a human retina. (Imaged by Dr. Bhubanananda Sahu, Research Specialist, Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences, UMMS).

Fundus Photo