Ma-hoosive congratulations to the newly minted Dr Karen Lester! (aka Krn, also aka Moe).
Karen studied for her PhD into the molecular mechanisms behind glaucoma. She was supervised by Prof Colin Willoughby, Dr Carl Sheridan and Mrs Anshoo Choudray however, she was also an honorary member of the Hamill lab, having worked alongside my team throughout of her studies. I remember interviewing Karen with Colin many years ago and thinking that he’d picked a good student, I was right!
Karen’s project developed into a really impressive story. She took a hypothesis independent approach to investigate the changes in the transcriptome of trabecular meshwork cells when cultured in conditions mimicking those of glaucoma. This work identified a number of mRNAs that are highly dysregulated in glaucoma. These mRNAs can now be further investigated as potential therapeutic targets.
In addition to mRNAs, she also studied microRNAs (miRs) in the same conditions, proving the first measure of these key mediators of cellular function in this cell type. miRs regulate expression of proteins within cells either by targeting mRNAs for degradation or preventing their translation. By mapping both the mRNAs and the miRNAs she has been able to assemble a map of what all goes wrong in glaucoma, identifying key pathways and connections.
On top of this (as if that wasn’t enough), miRNAs are eminently druggable. Simply put, smaller targets are easier to hit and in this case miRNAs can either be mimicked or inhibited relatively easily. The second half of Krn’s PhD was setting up a model system in which miRNA-based therapeutics can be tested. This model, rather than using mouse or other experimental animals, uses an in vitro perfusion system for maximum clinical relevance, increased speed of studies and, best of all, reduces the number of animals needed (her project was funded by NC3R exactly for this reason). It provides a valuable resource for further pre-clinical investigation.
Like most PhDs, the work doesn’t end at the completion of the viva. Often the next student picks it up and runs with the next stage, however, it’s even better here. Karen will take up a Fight For Sight-funded postdoctoral position at the University of Ulster with Prof Willoughby in July to take this work forward, trying to exploit her findings as new therapeutic interventions for glaucoma.
Karen sat her viva exam in Dublin today and so, although we aren’t there in person to celebrate with you, congratulations on behalf of all the Hamill lab, DEVS and IACD.