Thanks to a $240,000, three-year research grant, UCSB scientists will now have the opportunity to examine a degenerative retinal disease – central serous chorioretinopathy.

Steven Fisher, a professor in the Dept. of Cellular, Molecular and Developmental Biology, will helm the research team. Fisher, the founding director of the on-campus Neuroscience Research Institute, will study mice retinas in order to relate his findings to human eyes afflicted with CSR.

According to Fisher, the unprecedented use of a mouse’s retina in CSR research will prove useful when applying results to a human retina.

“[The mouse model] suggests mechanisms of the disease and once we figure them out, we can design treatments to prevent the disease in humans,” Fisher said.

Fisher said the grant – awarded by the Macula Vision Foundation of Pennsylvania – will provide the center with the necessary tools to uncover the disease’s complexities.

“[Our research] involves characterizing a mouse model with an inherited retinal degeneration, like human CSR,” Fisher said. “Our job is to find out whether or not it’s on a cellular level.”

Fisher, who has researched retinas for much of his career, will also collaborate with the National Eye Institute to investigate whether CSR is a physiological disease.

According to Fisher, CSR occurs spontaneously in humans when a part of the retina is torn from the back of the eye wall. Liquid in the eye – or vitreous fluid – then fills the eye pocket abnormally and distorts vision. Causes of the disease are still unknown.

Fisher said his research would focus on uncovering the underlying processes of CSR.

“It’s an accumulation of fluid behind the retina,” Fisher said. “It forms something like a blister in the part where we do our reading, in the central part.”

Symptoms of CSR include a sudden onset of blurred vision and floaters – spots or cloud-like lines – usually in one eye. CSR primarily affects adult males between the ages of 20-50.

Despite the undetected cause, Dan Roberts of Macular Degeneration Support Inc. said that increased stress, worn tissue and a lack of sleep are factors correlated with the development of CSR.

Fisher said an afflicted person normally has a sudden recovery without treatment, despite the fact that the injury to the retina may be irreparable.

“Not a lot is known about this disease,” Fisher said. “We believe cell damage occurs over time that may or may not be reparable. Each time it comes back and resolves itself, it gets worse.”

Fisher said an ophthalmologist – or eye specialist – must monitor the disease because it is recurrent and may become problematic.

In his research, Fisher said the new mouse model provided by the funding would be beneficial because the mice’s retinas will be studied at different biological levels.

“We can study things like gene expressions and molecules, and how they differ from the ones that are in a normal mouse,” Fisher said.