Science & Technology

UWF researcher earns grant to study retina regeneration in fish

Dr. Scott Taylor, assistant professor in the University of West Florida Department of Biology, has secured a $400,000 grant from the National Eye Institute to study how zebrafish regenerate photoreceptor cells in their eyes after they’ve been damaged.

UWF biology student and Dr. Scott Taylor conducting research.

The research will focus on using Clustered Regularly Interspaced Palindromic Repeats, or CRISPR, genome-editing techniques to explore how zebrafish regenerate the retinal cells that receive light and start the visual process.

Taylor said the research could eventually have applications for treating blindness in humans.

“(MiR-18a) might be extremely important for starting the regeneration process and at least helping to produce new photoreceptor cells,” Taylor said. “That’s really what we want to get at because in humans a lot of the retinal diseases destroy photoreceptors. So, we want to find ways to regenerate those cells in humans so that vision can be restored.”

Zebrafish can fully regenerate cells in their eyes even after extensive damage.

“In other animals, including mammals, damage to the retina causes permanent blindness, but zebrafish can fully recover from this,” Taylor said. “Otherwise, our retinas are almost identical in terms of how they work and how they’re structured.”

Taylor has used CRISPR to create zebrafish without MiR-18a, a molecule that regulates regeneration in the eye, to see how their vision recovers in its absence.

“Fish without this molecule have an exaggerated regeneration response,” Taylor said. “They produce more new cells and photoreceptors than normal fish would. We think this process is critical for regulating retinal regeneration.”

Taylor has studied retinal regeneration at UWF for more than three years.
The grant will fund three years of work and will support research positions for undergraduate and graduate students.

For more information about the UWF Department of Biology, visit uwf.edu/biology.