Our Research

Our lab aims to uncover the genetic programs that specify cell-type features and the molecular underpinnings that mediate the formation and specialization of the human fovea; to identify cell types that are selectively affected in pathological conditions; and to investigate the molecular mechanisms that mediate cell-type specific death in pathological conditions.

Cells are the building blocks of complex biological systems. Cells with shared morphological and functional features are characterized as types. In order to understand the organization and function of a complex system, it is key to identify the cell types that compose it and how they become specified.

How does the retina work?
The retina is a thin neural sheet that lines the back of the eye. It contains over 100 cell types, each with distinct cell-type features including somatic position, dendritic pattern, axon innervation, and connection choice. As a collective, they endow the retina with the ability to compute photon inputs into visual features such as illumination, motion, direction, color, et cetera. These visual features are then assembled into an image in the brain.  

The Development of a Functional Retinal Circuit

Retinal Circuit

What gives humans clear vision?
Humans and most primates rely on a high-acuity and chromatic central vision; when lost, skills such as reading, driving, and facial recognition fail. High-acuity vision stems from the fovea — a small (~1.5 mm diameter) specialized region at the center of the retina. Among mammals, only primates have a fovea; its formation and specialization remain unknown.

The Fovea, A Specialized Retinal Region Enabling Us to See Clearly

Fovea Figure

What causes blindness?
Most irreversible blindness results from retinal dysfunction. For example, the three leading causes of irreversible blindness — age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy — are all neurodegenerative retinal diseases. These three groups of diseases affect over 100 million people world-wide, greatly outnumbering those affected by neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.