Location: Cleveland Clinic Main Campus
Every living organism, have an internal timing mechanism that allows for certain physiological, behavioral and biochemical processes to occur in a rhythmic manner to coincide with the external environment. There is a growing body of evidence that shows a correlation between disruption of the internal timing and its negative impact on behavior and pathophysiology. We are interested in understanding how these internal timing cues affect tissue development and function and why do these disruptions lead to certain diseases. Our primary goal is to use the gained information to identify the targets of these clocks and design novel therapeutic that can be used to directly manipulate the targets. Though we study the eye, clocks are present in all the tissues within the body and this knowledge can be applied to any tissue within the body.
The Rao lab is interested in understanding how neurons and vasculature pattern themselves and interact with each other during development as well as in disease. Specifically, we are studying the role of circadian clocks and their contribution to retinal neurovascular development and function. We use the mouse eye as our model system mainly because of the presence of multiple vascular networks and their close association with the neurons. This interface between the neuronal and vascular systems is important for normal function and disruption can lead to pathologies. Circadian disruption is associated with wide range of metabolic syndromes and more recently has been implicated in the progression of certain diseases. Not much is known about the contribution of the circadian clock on retinal function. Our goal is to identify the molecular targets of the circadian clock within this retinal neurovascular unit and study the effects of the loss of these modulators on retinal development and maintenance. Though our studies are focused in the eye, our findings will have implications for the design of novel biological therapies for any tissue within the body.
Research & Innovation
Our research was the first analysis that demonstrated a link between environmental light and proper development of the eye. Since then we have demonstrated that light exposure in first trimester is a risk factor for the development of severe retinopathy. We can use the information that we gather from these projects to consider early interventions in treatment of retinopathy of prematurity where it could have an enormous benefit. Furthermore, our current research investigating the role of clock genes which are important in the generation and maintenance of circadian rhythms will uncover novel roles for these genes and will provide us new targets for treatments of proliferative retinopathy.