Jeff Christiansen, a graduate student in neurosciences at West Virginia University, is studying how vision develops – hoping to contribute to the prevention of blindness.

“The eye is able to collect a wide range of visual information, from a single star in the night sky to a volleyball flying at you on a sunny day at the beach,” Christiansen says. “There are multiple processes that cells in the retina use to accomplish this sensitive light detection. Unfortunately, defects in any of these processes lead to blindness.”

At WVU’s Sensory Neurosciences Research Center, Christiansen works in the lab of his faculty mentor, Visvanathan Ramamurthy Ph.D., using animal models to learn more about the basic mechanisms that allow the eyes to convert light to a signal that the brain can interpret.

“Our goal is to increase the fundamental understanding of some of the events which occur during vision and develop treatments for a variety of blinding diseases,” Christiansen said.

The work impressed scientists at the International Society for Eye Research, who awarded him a travel fellowship to present a paper at their annual conference in Montreal. The meeting, in July, brought together leading clinicians and vision researchers from all over the world to share their latest findings, technical expertise and experiences.

“The research I presented during the poster session was a new area that has not been formally presented yet. I wanted to show the eye research community the exciting work we are doing and get people interested in our work,” Christiansen said.

His presentation, “Post-Prenyl Processing of Proteins is Essential for Survival and Function of Photoreceptor Neurons,” was well-received, he said. “I got some valuable feedback. When I started working on this project at end of 2008, I would have never guessed how well the research would progress.”

Christiansen, a native of Latrobe, PA, would like to continue his research as a postdoctoral fellow and become a scientist and a teacher. His research is supported by grants from the National Eye Institute, Research to Prevent Blindness, and the West Virginia Lions Club.



CONTACT: Kim Fetty, HSC News Service