Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation scientist Scott Plafker, Ph.D., has received a $1.57 million grant to study an enzyme that might stop retinal degeneration.
The National Institute of General Medical Sciences awarded Plafker the grant based on his work with UbcM2, an enzyme that plays a role in amplifying the ability of cells to fight oxidative stress and damage.
“Our cells use oxygen as fuel, but it’s not a perfect process,” Plafker said. “Just like a car has exhaust, cells create a by-product from oxygen called free radicals.”
Over time, the build-up of free radicals can have adverse effects, and they’ve been linked to many diseases, including retinal degeneration.
“As we age, many people suffer from retinal degeneration, which affects the photoreceptors in the eye and damages vision,” he said. “This enzyme helps cells fight the harmful free radicals. With this research, we hope to better understand how cells can resist oxidative stress and use that information to find new ways to stop or slow the progress of retinal degeneration.”
The grant lasts five years, during which time Plafker will work with OMRF scientist Michael Kinter, Ph.D., and University of Washington researcher Rachel Klevit, Ph.D., to examine the structure of the enzyme.
Plafker earned his Ph.D. at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Following a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Virginia and an assistant professorship at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, he joined OMRF in 2011 as an associate member in its Free Radical Biology and Aging Research Program.
“Dr. Plafker has brought a lot of excitement to OMRF with his research,” said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “This new grant is a starting point that we hope will someday lead to therapeutics that will preserve eyesight.”