MU Scientist Advances the Study of Eye Disease and Aging
K. Krishna Sharma recognized as an AAAS Fellow for contributions to ophthalmology research
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.
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Story posted: Dec. 10, 2014
By: Jeff Sossamon
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. By analyzing strings of amino acids in the crystallins called peptides, Sharma’s group has narrowed the process that causes these milky clumps to form on the eye. His lab also is studying how those same peptides responsible for clumping also act as “chaperones” and help stave off lens degeneration. Further studies to control the development of these clumps could help in delaying age-related cataracts.
“In 2014, the total cost of vision loss and blindness in the U.S. was $145 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, almost half the cost was composed of cataracts care. This rising cost, coupled with the frequency of the disease, helps drive our research. Over the years, we’ve honed in on crystallins involved in degeneration. Through the course of our study, we found that sometimes the very peptides causing the clumping can help keep it at bay. Now, we’re studying the ‘switch’ that causes these peptides to be helpful or harmful. We hope to use this information to develop therapies and ways in which we can delay cataract formation.”
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.