Current Research Interests

As for many biomedical, basic-science research labs, my research flows and changes over time as we make new discoveries that lead us to new questions we form even as we uncover the answers to previous questions. That is the nature of basic science, and it is the way science investigation has always brought the most benefits to people and medicine in particular. While many organizations and countries have attempted to focus research support (funding) into specific diseases, it turns out that the overwhelming majority of high-impact medical discoveries have come from “serendipity”. That is, great useful ideas and tools were discovered to treat diseases simply by exploring how things work.

For example, drugs for controlling high cholesterol were not discovered by deciding to start making drugs for treating high cholesterol. In the course of biochemists investigating how our cells make cholesterol in the first place, chemicals were used to block enzymes to help figure out how cholesterol was made. Some of these chemicals then were obviously the idea to become new drugs that could block cholesterol made in the body. As long as they were not toxic, of course.

Latanoprost, one of the later generation of drugs developed in the 80’s for reducing high intraocular pressure (IOP), was based on the discovery that prostaglandins made by some cells in the eye could increase the aqueous outflow in the eye, and reduce pressure. The basic science was elucidated in animal models. Again, a basic science discovery in the laboratory of physiologist Laszlo Bito  at Columbia University, was adopted by a Pharma company as the way to make drugs that mimic natural prostaglandins to produced this new class of drugs. As a result, thousands of people around the world have another class of drugs to reduce their intraocular pressure and reduce their risk of vision loss from Glaucoma.

So, you never really know where benefits will arise for biomedicine. That is why many research funding agencies, such as the NIH (USA) and the MRC (UK), understand the importance of funding physiologists and biochemists to explore how things work. In our case, how things work in the eye, and the retina of the eye.

Several areas are currently worked on within two lab spaces that I am involved in directing: The Control of Gene Expression Lab, which I started in 2001, and the Pediatric Retinal Research Lab, which the ERI activated in 2012 in association with the support of the Vision Research ROPARD foundation. Some of the areas we research currently are listed here.

  1. Diabetic retina stress in rats that are insulin treated,
  2. Effects of Valproic acid on the degeneration of photoreceptors in mice that have mouse versions of retinitis pigmentosa.
  3. Newest: Funded by the NEI/NIH, to elucidate the molecular basis of the effects of different isoforms of VEGF (Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor) on the blood retinal barrier and specific effects on vascular endothelial cells.
  4. Biotechnology, bacterial production of recombinant proteins (human) for research on eye disease treatment. Future drug development.

If you are a student at Oakland University, you can complete your 490 independent research experiences in ERI laboratories. We also mentor Honors College thesis students, and more recently have added Medical School Capstone Research students, and Engineering Biology Capstone students. If you are interested in learning how to do science in our laboratories, please use the form link for student applicants found in the main menu above.

Sincerely,

Ken Mitton