Researcher Gets $1.48 Million to Study Disease That Causes Blindness in AIDS Patients

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Dr. Richard Dix, professor in the Department of Biology at Georgia State University, has received a four-year, $1.48 million federal grant to study an eye disease that causes vision loss and blindness in HIV-immunosuppressed patients who do not have access to antiretroviral therapy or don’t respond to the therapy.

Dr. Richard Dix

Dr. Richard Dix

Dr. Richard Dix, professor in the Department of Biology at Georgia State University, has received a four-year, $1.48 million federal grant to study an eye disease that causes vision loss and blindness in HIV-immunosuppressed patients who do not have access to antiretroviral therapy or don’t respond to the therapy.

The grant from the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health will allow Dix to study AIDS-related human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) retinitis, a sight-threatening retinal disease that remains a significant ophthalmologic problem worldwide. His goal is to understand the mechanisms and cell death pathways involved in the disease.

“The project is relevant to public health because it will demonstrate for the first time that HCMV causes vision loss and blindness during AIDS and other forms of immunosuppression by stimulating suppressor of cytokine signaling (SOCS) proteins and multiple cell death pathways to kill retinal cells,” Dix said.

There are still challenges in diagnosing, preventing and treating the debilitating disease because scientists don’t understand the mechanism by which HCMV, a human herpes virus, causes retinal tissue destruction during the onset and progression of AIDS-related HCMV retinitis.

HCMV is a common virus humans acquire at an early age, but it remains dormant in healthy individuals and typically only affects pregnant women or people with weakened immune systems, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Dix hopes to determine the mechanisms used by suppressor of cytokine signaling 1 (SOCS1) and suppressor of cytokine signaling 3 (SOCS3) to cause retinal destruction. The SOCS proteins turn off cytokines, proteins that aid communication between cells in immune responses. He also wants to find out how necroptosis and pyroptosis, two very different cell death pathways, work together with apoptosis, another form of programmed cell death, to kill retinal cells.

The project will study a similar disease, mouse cytomegalovirus (MCMV) retinitis, in mice with retrovirus-induced immunosuppression (MAIDS). Dix will determine if SOCS1, SOCS3, necroptosis and pyroptosis play a significant role in the pathogenesis of MAIDS-related MCMV retinitis. He also plans to show these mechanisms of retinal tissue destruction are found in humans and operate during AIDS-related HCMV retinitis.

In addition, Dix, an adjunct professor of ophthalmology at Emory University, will study eye tissue from AIDS patients with AIDS-related human cytomegalovirus retinitis from Emory’s eye bank to learn more about the disease.

This research could lead to new therapeutic approaches for reducing the vision loss and blindness associated with AIDS-related HCMV retinitis and other retinal diseases caused by herpes viruses, Dix said.

An abstract of the grant, R01EY024630, is available at the NIH’s Project RePORTer website.

For more information about Dix, visit http://biology.gsu.edu/profile/richard-dix/.

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LaTina Emerson
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