By Catherine Williamson on February 15, 2024
Featuring András Komáromy

A new gene therapy, delivered by novel engineered nanoparticles, is to prevent the loss of optic nerve fibers.

András Komáromy, DrMedVet, PhD, professor of comparative ophthalmology in the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, has received a Senior Scholars Fulbright award to conduct glaucoma research in collaboration with experts at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.

“My Fulbright research at Macquarie University aims to develop a novel gene therapy for glaucoma, a leading cause of irreversible vision loss,” says Komáromy. “The proposed treatment consists of innovative gene therapy introduced into the eye via novel engineered nanoparticles.”

Glaucoma currently affects around 80 million people worldwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. That number is expected to grow to 111 million by 2040.

Let There be Light

A vision scientist and board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist, Komáromy has a longstanding interest in glaucoma in dogs and the value of using this knowledge to understand the disease in people better. He will be working in Sydney with the team of Dr. Stuart Graham, professor of ophthalmology and vision science, and Dr. Vivek Gupta, associate professor and National Health and Medical Research Council Dementia Leadership Fellow at Macquarie University.

Their project, “Let There be Light—Modified Serpin as a Dual-Function Therapeutic Agent in Glaucoma,” will test a new gene therapy on murine models at Macquarie University and then on translationally relevant canine models at MSU.

Canine Optic Nerve Normal V Glaucoma Resize
Normal canine optic nerve (left) and an optic nerve with advanced glaucoma (right). These changes are associated with vision loss in humans and dogs. The objective of the project is to slow or prevent this neurodegenerative process with neuroserpin gene therapy.

The aim of the new gene therapy is to prevent the loss of optic nerve fibers. Glaucoma causes retinal ganglion cells and their axons within the optic nerve to die—the optic nerve carries visual information from the eye to the brain. There is no vision without the optic nerve. High pressure in the eye is implicated in glaucoma, and that is the focus of current glaucoma therapies.

“Right now, the only treatment for glaucoma is lowering eye pressure with eye drops or surgery, but the optic nerve in the back of the eye continues to die,” says Komáromy. “That is why this approach, neuroprotection, is critical to preserve sight.”

The Strength of Collaboration

The Fulbright award makes it possible for Komáromy to conduct the research with Graham and Gupta. “Importantly, I’ll have opportunities to discuss problems and alternative strategies,” Komáromy says. “They have expertise in neuroscience and neuroprotection, and I have expertise in clinical glaucoma in dogs and other animal species. To participate in this work at Macquarie University, I think, will be very helpful to our subsequent research at MSU.”

Demonstrating the new gene therapy works in rodents and then replicating those results in dogs is the goal of the research.

“If we can prove in the dog that it works as well as in the murine model, then that’s a major step toward a clinical trial in humans and dogs.”

Fulbright’s Cultural Mission

While the focus of Komáromy’s time in Sydney will be research, his ambition as a Fulbright Scholar extends beyond the laboratory.

“I’m looking forward to meeting students, giving talks, and doing outreach beyond the university. I’m hoping to visit the local zoos and perform ophthalmic examinations on Australian animal species,” says Komáromy.

Fulbright scholars are ambassadors for their home countries, and Komáromy will serve as an ambassador for the United States. The hope is to build collaborations with Australian scientists and create opportunities for Australian students to perform research at MSU.

“I consider myself a world citizen, and that’s why I love being at a university like MSU—it is very diverse, very international, you get the best of everything. International relationships are wonderful because of the different points of view of people with various experiences and backgrounds,” said Komáromy. When you put them together, I think it will really enhance the quality of the research and clinical work because we develop better tools and results.”