New laboratories are up and running at Schepens for Lotfi Merabet, Luk Vandenberghe and Pedram Hamrah

Dr. Merabet is directing the Laboratory for Visual Neuroplasticity. Members of the lab are using neuroimaging (fMRI) and noninvasive brain stimulation techniques (TMS and tDCS) to understand how the brain adapts to the loss of sight, to develop assistive technology, and to characterize associated behavioral performance and functional changes in the brain.

Their current project concentrates on using virtual environments and game based learning strategies to assist in developing navigation and way finding skills in the blind. Much of this work is done in local collaboration with the Carroll Center for the Blind as well as through international collaborations with the University of Chile.

As part of the Ocular Genomics Institute, the Vandenberghe Laboratory directs the Ocular Gene Transfer Core, which provides expertise, reagents and validation of gene transfer vectors for the treatment and study of disorders of the eye.  Dr. Vandenberghe and his team are developing novel gene transfer technologies and therapeutic strategies that will lead to treatments of neurosensory disorders with unmet clinical need.  Members of the laboratory work on translating genetic therapies to the clinic for inherited retinal disorders as well as blinding disorders with more complex etiologies.

Research in the Hamrah Laboratory seeks answers to the question how circulating blood cells find their way to the cornea. Directed migration of leukocytes to the cornea plays a critical role in corneal homeostasis and pathologic conditions. Currently, it is still beyond the reach of even the most sophisticated in vitro methodology to simulate the complex interplay of physical, cellular, biochemical, and other factors that determine leukocyte behavior in micro-vessels. Therefore, the Hamrah lab employs intravital microscopy to study the molecular mechanisms of interactions between blood cells and the vascular wall by direct observation in anesthetized mice, as well as the role of the nervous system in these interactions. Using this approach, they have demonstrated that dendritic cell homing to the cornea requires P-selectin for an initial tethering step that leads to rolling in postcapillary venules, as well as the integrins MadCAM-1 and VCAM-1 for stationary adhesion to the vessel wall. It is the combination of these molecular participants that allows leukocyte migration to the cornea.

Understanding how antigen-presenting cells, in particular dendritic cells, migrate and function within the cornea and draining lymph nodes in vivo is a major focus of the Hamrah Laboratory. To this end, they are using and have developed a panel of transgenic mouse strains that express fluorescent proteins or can be specifically depleted for distinct dendritic cells, plasmacytoid dendritic cells and T cell subsets. Dendritic cells, plasmacytoid dendritic cells and T cells can be visualized in the cornea and draining lymph nodes in living mice using intravital multi-photon microscopy. This allows Dr. Hamrah and colleagues to dissect the trafficking behavior of these cell subsets at a resolution and specificity that could not otherwise be achieved, as well as their role through functional depletion in murine models of corneal transplantation, herpes simplex keratitis, inflammation, and neurotrophic keratopathy.