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Once a month, the UNC Eye Research Seminar Series hosts a round table opportunity for members of the Carolina Eye Research Institute (CERI)’s four labs, CERI-affiliated study collaborators and other UNC researchers to come together and discuss the latest translational applications and therapeutic approaches to treating ocular disease and worsening vision. At each seminar, podium expertise shared in a relaxed, collegial environment prompts faculty lab leaders, University research collaborators, and learners to query, learn and discuss bigger picture relevance of the featured topic.

Long-time Carolina Eye Research Institute (CERI) faculty lab lead and Associate Professor Matt Hirsch, PhD, was honored by the American Society of Gene & Cell Therapy in 2022 as one of four early-career investigators nationwide leading advancements in ocular gene therapy to treat rare genetic diseases such as corneal blindness.  Dr. Hirsch facilitates the monthly UNC Eye Research Seminar Series and prioritizes presentation of expertise that is relevant and engaging to CERI lab members and other stakeholders in attendance.

Dr. Hirsch noted: “The CERI seminar series brings together clinicians, principal investigators, and students for presentation and discussion of ongoing research programs aimed towards improving vision.  This forum fosters interdisciplinary collaborations while providing opportunities for students to refine their presentation skills and be exposed to alternative approaches and ideas.  Furthermore, it strengthens the sense of community between CERI members and researchers throughout the campus. All who are interested in learning more about ocular diseases and preclinical drug development are encouraged to attend.”

In late May, Yong-Su Kwon, PhD, a post-doctoral researcher in the CERI lab of Associate Professor Zongchao Han, PhD, presented, “Advanced biomaterials in nanomedicine and innovative therapeutic strategies for age-related macular degeneration” as the Seminar Series featured speaker. In 2022, Dr. Kwon was recognized by the BrightFocus Foundation as a pioneering post-doctoral researcher in advancing greater understanding, prevention, and treatment of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Mentored by Dr. Han, Dr. Kwon’s latest AMD research focuses on evaluating efficacy of melanin nanoparticle-based new antioxidant therapeutics via delivery of a single intravitreal injection for AMD. In his Seminar Series presentation, Dr. Kwon outlined evidence from his research that supports achieving single-dose therapeutic administration to treat AMD, versus other antioxidant-based approaches that have proven unsuccessful. The study findings on Dr. Kwon’s novel AMD therapeutic approach to protecting retinal cells by mimicking natural melanin using nanotechnology-based advanced antioxidants were recently published in Advanced Science (Impact factor: 15.1, May 30th, 2024).

Dr. Kwon noted: “Our recent findings indicate that nanotechnology-based advanced antioxidants, such as melanin-like and glycol-chitosan coated cerium oxide nanoparticles, offer significant advantages in treating age-related macular degeneration (AMD). These nanoparticle-based antioxidants have the potential to outperform traditional antioxidants due to their enhanced reactive oxygen species (ROS) scavenging capabilities, targeted delivery, sustained release, and improved bioavailability in the treatment of oxidative stress-related diseases.”

Dr. Han added: “Dr. Kwon is a talented scientist specializing in nanomedicine, integrating material chemistry, biology, and medicine to advance AMD research. His innovative work with melanin nanoparticles has brought us closer to achieving clinical trials for AMD patients with a single treatment.”

UNC Professor of Cell Biology and Physiology Ellen Weiss, PhD, is an expert in evaluating mechanisms of phototransduction that are the basis of vision in the vertebrate retina. She is among UNC research faculty who periodically attend the monthly CERI Seminar Series to gain inter-disciplinary insights on technical approaches that may inform their own research designs. In years past, Dr. Weiss has collaborated with Dr. Han in sharing technology and expertise to supplement one another’s respective research.

Dr. Weiss noted: “CERI seminars give me ideas regarding new technologies that could be useful for work in our laboratory. I also enjoy learning about new signaling pathways and interactions between proteins that could either play a role in my research or are intellectually interesting to a basic scientist who enjoys learning more about vertebrate cell biology.

Dr. Kwon has kindly helped my laboratory learn how to administer intravitreal injections, and I very much enjoyed his talk [in late May]! There are so few effective therapies for retinal diseases [like AMD]. When an investigative approach that uses nanoparticles demonstrates the ability to avoid the retina and directly enter the RPE, such as Dr. Kwon showed in his presentation, it is very exciting to see how the use of these novel technical approaches combined with the use of melanin to protect RPE cells from oxidative stress provides hope for new therapeutic strategies to treat AMD that could progress to clinical trials.”