Please tell us about yourself
From the beginning of my career as an eye research scientist, my long-term research goal has been to identify therapeutic targets that rescue and/or protect retinal cells. During the course of my doctoral and postdoctoral research, I have worked on models of retinal degenerative diseases, including retinitis pigmentosa, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) to identify candidate protective molecules. Currently, my research is focused on identification of potential therapeutic targets for the treatment of the dry form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The ideal drugs will prolong the longevity of retinal cells, delay cell death, thereby saving vision.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading retinal degenerative disease, is a primary cause of irreversible blindness among the elderly population in the United States. AMD ranks third among the global causes of visual impairment and has been listed under the category of priority eye diseases. Dry AMD which manifests as geographic atrophy affects approximately 80-90% of the patients and currently has no available treatments. Therefore, we are in need of treatment strategies for dry AMD. Mitochondrial dysfunction
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?
Growing up, Dr. Sonali Nashine was curious about everything and after completing bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biotechnology in India, Nashine attended the University of North Texas Health Science Center for her PhD program in biomedical sciences with a major in visual sciences. She studied the role of apoptotic proteins in retinal degeneration disease models of glaucoma and retinitis pigmentosa.
While finishing her PhD, she applied for post-doctoral positions at universities all over the United States. During an interview at UC Irvine (UCI) with DEF research director Dr. Cristina Kenney, she learned about her lab’s work in studying AMD genetics and trying to find a genetic cause. “That overlapped with my long-term goal of identifying therapeutic drugs for retinal-degenerative diseases,” Nashine says.
How does your research benefit the community?
She became the first Arnold and Mabel Beckman Postdoctoral Fellow at the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute at UCI. “My research in Dr. Kenney’s lab has been very productive during the past three years,” Nashine says. “We are looking for drugs that will prolong the longevity of retinal cells, delay cell death and, thereby, save vision. My research at UCI involved identification of mechanisms that are driven by AMD mitochondria, and subsequent screening of peptides and drugs that could protect AMD cells. Recently, we identified agents that rescued macular degeneration cells. Our next steps are to see how we can deliver those drugs to patients.
“We are also collaborating with another lab to identify candidate drugs that have already been FDA-approved to test their potential to save retinal cells from macular degeneration. We have identified one drug and are working on more.”
“The Discovery Eye Foundation has played a very important part in our research,” she says. “This funding encourages young scientists and supports most of our research work. Without DEF’s support, this work would not be possible.”
When asked why she is doing this research, Nashine says: “I hope to prevent vision loss from AMD, identify new therapeutic approaches for the prevention and treatment of dry AMD, and improve the quality of life of people with the disease.”