8:37 a.m., April 2, 2013–Salil Lachke, University of Delaware assistant professor of biological sciences and a 2012 Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences, is one of just eight researchers from around the world selected as an Alcon Research Institute 2013 Young Investigator Grant recipient.

Lachke, whose research involves identifying genes associated with human eye diseases, will receive $50,000 in research funds to continue advancing an online gene discovery tool, called “iSyTE” (Integrated Systems Tool for Eye gene discovery). The tool is currently housed at the University’s Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology.

Previously, Lachke developed and used iSyTE to identify a novel gene, TDRD7. Mutations in TDRD7 led to cataracts and glaucoma in human patients and mouse mutant models.

In the past three years, iSyTE has led to the identification of several new genes associated with cataracts. Using a multidisciplinary approach, Lachke will use the grant funding to extend iSyTE to another part of the eye, the retina.

“The eye is made up of several different tissue components that function together to allow high resolution vision,” he said. “Different types of eye disease result from defects in these distinct tissue components. The first version of iSyTE focused on identifying genes that are associated with the lens tissue. We now intend to analyze genomic datasets on the retina.”

Lachke and his team hope to use iSyTE to identify genes associated with retina-related disorders.

Proper functioning of the retina is critical to vision and it has not been easy to find genes associated with retinal diseases, according to Lachke.

“The retina is really critical — it is where light information is processed and sent out to the brain,” he said. “These research efforts will allow us to gain insights into how the retina forms and functions.”

Lachke presented his abstract on the first version of iSyTE at the 2012 annual meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Optometry (ARVO), the largest organization of eye researchers and ophthalmologists in the world.
Lachke’s abstract was selected in “Emerging Trends and Hot Topics” as representing “the newest and most innovative research.”

Before being selected as a grant recipient, Lachke submitted a proposal and endured an extremely competitive selection process.

“ARI is highly reputed in the eye field,” he said. “I am extremely honored and grateful to be recognized as a 2013 ARI Young Investigator.”

Article by Kelley Bregenzer