BAR HARBOR, MAINE — Faculty member Vicki P. Losick, Ph.D., will deliver the inaugural William Procter lecture on the fruit fly as a model for the study of retinal diseases, including age-related macular degeneration, at the MDI Biological Laboratory.
Age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, a leading cause of blindness, is reaching epidemic proportions with the aging of the world’s population, but modeling it for purposes of developing therapeutic interventions is difficult because the underlying cellular dysfunction takes a year to develop in mouse models and decades in humans.
In 2018 Losick was named the inaugural recipient of a William Procter Scientific Innovation Fund award for research to develop the fruit fly, which shares many of its genes with humans, as a model for retinal disease. The results will be presented in a lecture entitled “Accelerating Discoveries to Address Macular Degeneration and Other Age-related Retinal Disease Using the Fruit Fly.”
The lecture will be delivered on Wednesday, July 17, at 5 p.m. at the Maine Center for Biomedical Innovation on the campus of the MDI Biological Laboratory, 159 Old Bar Harbor Road, Salisbury Cove.
The Procter Fund was established at the MDI Biological Laboratory in 2018 by a member of William Procter’s family in honor of his achievements in science and business. Procter was the grandson of William Procter, the founder of Procter & Gamble (P&G) and an active member of the P&G board until his death in 1951.
In recognition of Procter’s interest in translating science into applications to improve human health and quality of life, the fund provides up to $50,000 annually to support high risk/high impact research, basic research with potential for commercialization and education programs focused on translating discoveries into commercial applications.
Losick’s demonstration that the cellular dysfunction associated with human retinal disease is mimicked in the fruit fly paves the way for her and collaborator Patsy Nishina, Ph.D., of The Jackson Laboratory to use it as an inexpensive and efficient platform for the development of therapies to prevent or reverse retinal disease.
“Now that we’ve created a fruit fly model, we can use it to screen for genetic and pharmacological suppressors that return the organism to a non-disease state,” Losick said. “The advantage of using the fly is that the underlying cellular function takes days to arise, compared to months to a year in the mouse and decades in humans.”
The award to a scientist who studies the fruit fly is especially fitting given the fact that Procter was a graduate student in zoology at Columbia University, where he was inspired by Thomas Hunt Morgan, the Nobel-prizewinning scientist who founded experimental genetics and established the fruit fly as a model for the study of human disease.
Procter went on to become a prominent entomologist and the author of a “Biological Survey of the Mount Desert Region,” an exhaustive, seven-part survey of the insect and marine fauna of Mount Desert Island that was launched in the 1920s at the MDI Biological Laboratory, where he served as trustee and president.
Losick’s Procter project is an outgrowth of her earlier work on wound healing in which she found that extra-large cells called polypoid cells maintain the size and function of injured tissue in the fruit fly. In 2017, she was recognized as an “outstanding investigator” by the National Institutes of Health for this research.
While polyploid cells promote healing in some parts of the body, their presence in the eye is a hallmark of retinal disease. Losick’s research aims to gain an increased understanding of the genes that govern polyploidy, which could open the door to new treatments not only for retinal disease, but for other conditions as well.
“I am very grateful for the Procter fund award, which has allowed us to kick-start this project,” Losick said. “Though it’s still early days, our mission going forward is to use the model we have created to learn as much as we can about a family of retinal diseases with a devastating effect on people’s lives and their ability to carry out simple, everyday tasks.”
Losick, who joined the MDI Biological Laboratory in 2016, has established herself as a leader in research on the role of polyploidy in wound healing and aging. In October 2018, she led a first-of-its-kind conference at the MDI Biological Laboratory on “Polyploidy in Organ Development, Repair and Disease.”
For more information, please visit mdibl.org/events/ or call 207-288-3147.
About the MDI Biological Laboratory
We are pioneering new approaches to regenerative medicine focused on developing drugs that slow age-related degenerative diseases and activate our natural ability to heal. Our unique approach has identified potential therapies that could revolutionize the treatment of heart disease, muscular dystrophy and more. Through the Maine Center for Biomedical Innovation, we are preparing students for 21st century careers and equipping entrepreneurs with the knowledge, skills and resources needed to turn discoveries into applications that improve human health and well-being. For more information, please visit mdibl.org.