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Grant strengthens Brantley’s vision research efforts

Feb. 16, 2017, 9:15 AM

Milam Brantley Jr., M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, recently received a $500,000 grant from the Edward N. and Della L. Thome Memorial Foundation Awards Program in Macular Degeneration Research to further his work on age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Milam Brantley Jr., M.D., Ph.D.

The award will be dispersed over a two-year period to support his project “Understanding the Mechanism of Bile Acids’ Influence on AMD Pathophysiology.”

Brantley’s lab, in conjunction with a team at Emory University, has used metabolomics, a technique that can simultaneously measure thousands of molecules in a person’s blood, to study AMD and other leading causes of blindness. His initial metabolomic investigation of patients from the Vanderbilt Eye Institute (VEI) revealed that patients with AMD had altered blood levels of bile acids compared to those without AMD.

“Having identified these alterations of bile acid levels in patients with AMD, we now want to understand how and why these molecules differ in the disease,” said Brantley. “We want to identify the molecular pathway differences to help us better understand the underlying pathophysiology of the disease.”

Brantley will collaborate with the Mass Spectrometry Core at Vanderbilt to measure individual bile acids and metabolites in three patient groups — those with no evidence of AMD, those with early-stage AMD and finally in those with advanced-stage AMD.

“The final phase of the study will evaluate the ability of bile acids to protect retinal cells,” he said. “Ultimately, we hope to use this information to understand the role bile acids play in AMD development and progression and pave the way for new treatments.”

David Calkins, Ph.D., the Denis O’Day Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, said Brantley’s study is a powerful example of Vanderbilt’s push toward precision and personalized medicine in ophthalmology.

“We are thrilled that Dr. Brantley has achieved this rare and generous award,” said Calkins, vice-chair and director for Research at VEI and director of the Vanderbilt Vision Research Center. “His work on identifying critical pathways involved in AMD will help us understand how patients progress at an individual level.”

Created in 2002, the Edward N. and Della L. Thome Memorial Foundation advances the health of older adults through the support of direct service projects and medical research on diseases and disorders affecting older adults. The awards program supports translational research that will lead to improved therapies for individuals suffering from AMD.

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