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Eye Research Institute

Dodge Hall
118 Library Drive
Rochester, Michigan 48309-4479
(location map)

Eye Research Institute

Dodge Hall
118 Library Drive
Rochester, Michigan 48309-4479
(location map)

two women wearing white coats, using equipment in a lab


The ERI contains multiple research facilities in its efforts to research the underlying causes and possible cures of many eye diseases. These facilities are available to ERI faculty, staff and student researchers.

Cell and Molecular Biology Module

Directed by Mohamed Al-Shabrawey, MD, Ph.D., the Cell and Molecular Biology Module provides training and access to Cytation5 Cell Imaging Multimode Reader, Particle-Metrix ZetaView Quatt-NTA Nanoparticle Tracking- Video Microscope and SeahorseXFe96 Analyzer to high-quality live cell analysis.

To learn more and book equipment usage, click here.

Pediatric Retinal Research Laboratory

The ERI launched the Virginia and Clarence Clohset Pediatric Retinal Research Laboratory (PRRL) in 2011, which is believed to be the only laboratory in the country devoted solely to pediatric retinal research. The PRRL is directed by Dr. Kenneth Mitton. ERI clinical faculty Dr. Kimberly Drenser and Dr. Antonio Capone Jr. are also associated with the laboratory. The PRRL operates on financial support from the PRRF and The Carls Foundation, both of Michigan.

$480,000 in funding to construct the laboratory space was donated by the Pediatric Retinal Research Foundation, which is striving to eliminate blindness and low vision in children from premature birth and retinal disease. PRRF made its contribution through support from two donor families — the Clohsets and the Bergquist families — along with a number of individual donors. Additional funding from the PRRF, the NEI/NIH, and the Carls Foundation have provided equipment and reagents that support several research projects of ERI research labs. Furthermore, Dr. Drenser (Associated Retinal Consultants) and Dr. Mitton collaborate and publish research on Norrin and its roles in retinal vascular development using animal models and vascular cells from human organ-donated retinas. Human patients with Norrie Disease have changes to the gene encoding Norrin and this causes a lack of blood vessels in an infant’s retinas, causing blindness from an early age. Norrin is a special growth factor that binds to receptor proteins on retinal vascular cells. Other patients with a different genetic condition called FEVR (Familial Exudative Vitreo-Retinopathy) have changes to genes encoding one or more of the proteins that form the receptor complex for Norrin. These genes are named FZD4 (Frizzled-4), TSPAN12 (Tetra-Spannin-12) and LRP5.

Norrie Disease, FEVR, Persistent Fetal Vascular Syndrome, and Retinoschisis are relatively rare blinding conditions affecting young children and adults. Patients with Retinoschisis have very delicate retinas that suffer tears and layer separations due to changes to the RS gene, which encodes a glue-like protein called the RS-protein that normally holds the layers of the retina together. In the United States rare diseases that affect less than 200,000 people are called “orphan” diseases and rare conditions often lack attention from medical research.

Fortunately, Associate Retinal Consultants of Michigan are world-renowned expert physicians for these rare conditions and the Pediatric Retinal Research Foundation has included these orphan diseases as targets of their research support. By partnering with Oakland University, basic science research is contributing to understanding these conditions and developing therapies.

The PRRL provides support in several ways to the ERI’s translational medical research mission at Oakland University.

  • Live retinal imaging and ERG testing for mouse and rat eye research models. This includes digital imaging of the retina and fluorescein angiography, which are methods used on human eye patients too. The PRRL also has Optical Coherence Tomography imaging, a way to see the layers of the living retina, painlessly, in a living eye.
  • Cell culture, used for primary retinal vascular cells that are derived from human retinas donated to medical research. These cells enable the direct study of the effects of growth factors, drugs, and high glucose (diabetes) on cells that form the important blood-retinal-barrier of the human eye.
  • Next Generation Sequencing (NGS), DNA sequencing to test genes for changes that may cause Norrie Disease, FVER. In summer of 2019 the PRRL/ERI activated the first ongoing DNA sequencing research service at Oakland University, which focuses on orphan pediatric retinal diseases. Dr. Mitton, Dr. Drenser, and technologist Wendy Dailey developed a custom-targeted DNA sequencing testing panel using Illumina (CA, USA) technology. Dr. Mitton and Wendy Dailey, working in the PRRL, developed an 8-gene test panel that sequences the genes with the accuracy required for correctly detecting disease-causing changes. Aware of the fact that US health insurance does not cover such testing, the team wanted to reduce the cost of sequencing-based analysis down from several thousands of dollars for one or two genes to about $250 for eight genes. Over 80 FEVR patients have been tested and the molecular cause of this condition identified for ten families as of January 2023. The PRRL also provides the opportunity to educate Oakland University science and medical students in applied human genetics.
Microscopy Module

The Ocular Structure and Imaging (OSI) facility is supervised by Andrew Goldberg, Ph.D., and is staffed by a full-time Ph.D.-level digital imaging associate supported by the university. It offers instrumentation and expertise in support of electron and light microscopy studies.

In Vivo Imaging Module

Directed by Amany Tawfik, M.D., M.Sc., this module allows for studying changes in retinal structure and vessels by the fluorescein angiogram and the Optical Coherence Tomogram (OCT). It also allows induction of experimental choroidal neovascularization using laser source (Phoenix Technology Group).

Retinal Function Assessment Module

Retinal Function Assessment Module, directed by Dao Qi Zhang, Ph.D., contains:

  1. Diagnosys Celeris Electrophysiology System: It provides a full-field dark-adapted and light-adapted electroretinogram (ERG) testing, flash visual evoked potential (VEP) testing, simultaneous ERG and VEP protocol provided, both eyes can be tested individually and automatically, and an anesthesia machine specifically designed to safely deliver isoflurane to mice.
  2. Cerebral Mechanics OptoMotry-AT System: It provides real-time behavioral testing of optokinetic response for small laboratory animals (rats and mice), spatial frequency and contrast sensitivity testing and manual and automatic trial control and tracking assessment.
  3.  NeurOptics A-2000 Small Animal Pupillometer System: It provides pupillary evaluation in small laboratory animals (rats and mice) in real-time, the binocular dual-camera system measures both eyes at once, four ultra-bright color light stimuli (white, green, blue, and red), and light intensities defined in lux or pure radiometric units (W/m2), stimulates direct, consensual, or both eyes simultaneously and automatic tracking and pupil detection.