COLUMBIA, Mo. - Cataracts, a clouding of the lens in the eye leading to vision loss, affects more than 24 million people in the United States, according to National Institutes of Health estimates. Often linked to the natural process of aging, cataracts are a major cause of blindness worldwide. K. Krishna Sharma, an ophthalmology researcher at the University of Missouri, has worked for more than two decades to study the mechanisms involved in this degenerative disease. Discoveries in his lab are advancing both the understanding of how cataracts develop and the process of aging.
For his research contributions to the understanding of proteins in the eye lens, Sharma has been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Election as an AAAS Fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers. This year, 401 members were awarded the honor by AAAS due to their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications.
"To have your body of work recognized by your peers is a true compliment to our research and its significance," Sharma said. "I'm honored to receive the fellowship."
The lens of the eye is primarily composed of proteins called crystallins. As we age, these crystallins accumulate and clump together to form cataracts. Sharma's lab is investigating how that clumping occurs and how this can be regulated. By analyzing strings of amino acids in the eye lens proteins called crystallins, Sharma's group has narrowed the process that causes proteins to clump in the eye as well as the peptides that have the potential to slow down the "clumping process." Sharma's laboratory has identified the peptide "chaperones" that suppress clumping of proteins and these have the potential to stave off lens degeneration. Further studies to refine the chaperone peptides and develop them as therapeutic drugs could help in delaying some forms of cataracts.
"In 2013, the direct cost of vision loss and blindness in the U.S. was estimated to be about $66.7 billion," said Sharma, professor of ophthalmology in the Mason Eye Institute at MU and joint professor of biochemistry, housed in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR) and the School of Medicine at MU. "Of that, about $10.7 billion was composed of cataracts care. The rising treatment cost and increased need for care for the aging population that is most susceptible to developing cataracts is driving our research to develop methods that delay the onset of disease."
Sharma is the author of more than 70 peer-reviewed articles. He is an academic editor for the journal, PLoS One, and a member of the National Eye Advisory Council. He holds a Bachelor of Science in biology and chemistry as well as master's and doctoral degrees in biochemistry all from the University of Mysore in India. He also is a Fellow of Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology and a member of the National Advisory Eye Council.