Mentor: Don Samuelson
College of Veterinary Medicine
"The scholars program offered an opportunity to participate in research funded by the university. I hope to gain some understanding of the research process, including project design, trouble-shooting, and synthesis of data. This year, I intend to learn about marine mammal evolution and morphology, specifically the physical characteristics of pinniped eyes. Hopefully, I will uncover significant patterns as well."
- The effect of evolution on morphological and ecological scales
- Horse Protection Association of Florida
Hobbies and Interests
- Rock CLimbing
- Horseback Riding
- Fiction Writing
- Acoustic Guitar
Role of VEGF-A and VEGFR-2 in Suppression of Corneal Neovascularization
Quality vision in mammals requires a clear, avascular cornea (one notable exception is the Sirenian order). However in terrestrial mammals, acute corneal stress results in neovascularization, the branching of existing blood vessels and formation of new blood vessels within corneal tissue. The presence of blood vessels in the cornea signifies abnormal pathology in these mammals. Various growth factors secreted by metabolically stressed or hypoxic cells trigger neovasularization in the cornea. These factors are found in the cornea and limbus of terrestrial mammals. They include vascular endothelial growth factors (VEGF) and fibroblast growth factors (FGF). Infection or severe insult to the mouse cornea has been shown to upregulate transcription of VEGF, specifically VEGF-A (Yuan et al.). The inhibition of VEGF transcription has been correlated with decreased angiogenesis (neovascularization) in mouse and human corneas (Zheng et al. 2001). In addition to its presence in infected corneas, VEGF has been found at basal levels in normal human corneas (Van Setten, G. 1996). Pinnipeds are unable to induce neovascularization in the cornea (Colitz et al. 2010). This order of mammals is comprised of three families, including within them walruses, eared seals, and earless seals. Both free-ranging and captive pinnipeds have been found to have high rates of ocular lesions. The use of immunohistochemical monoclonal VEGF antibodies will allow us to determine whether or not VEGF is present in normal pinniped eyes. We will then compare basal VEGF levels with those of stressed or abnormal eyes. Practically, a comprehensive understanding of this pathway will help to improve the ocular quality of captive pinnipeds. It will enhance our understanding of angiogenesis in all organisms and in human metastatic cancer. It will also add to our surprisingly slim understanding of aquatic vision and the way in which ocular evolution has been influenced by an amphibious life.