Studying blind cavefish to better treat human eyes
Born with vision, cavefish Astyanax mexicanus lose sight as they develop. Their lenses atrophy, their retinas degenerate, their eyes eventually disappear altogether.
The cavefish, in short, is a living laboratory for the study of human eye diseases like macular degeneration.
That’s why the research of biologist Daphne Soares and her team at NJIT’s College of Science and Liberal Arts is so important. Her aim is twofold: new knowledge, plus better management and treatment of human eye diseases.
Funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Dr. Soares has restored sight in cavefish larvae by transplanting a lens from a closely related surface fish. This transplanted lens does not die as the cavefish grows. The questions the research seeks to answer are basic: Will the function of the retina be restored? Will changes in the eye lead to changes in the brain?
The knowledge of neurobiology and neural plasticity gained from Dr. Soares’ research and her insights into what happens when a sensory modality is restored may pave the way to faster interventions and better outcomes.