Lab notes

Lab notes

Notes about research at UF Health

Reversing blindness

It’s usually in the first few months that parents of newborns with Leber congenital amaurosis realize something is wrong. The babies fail to focus on their parents’ faces, may be abnormally sensitive to light or have unusual eye movements. Parents then receive the devastating diagnosis: severe, permanent visual impairment. A new grant will allow UF researcher Shannon Boye, Ph.D., and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania to test a gene therapy that could potentially reverse one form of this hereditary disorder. Leber congenital amaurosis, the most common cause of childhood blindness, is a group of degenerative diseases of the retina caused by genetic mutations in one of 19 genes currently associated with the disorder. These genes encode proteins that play a variety of roles in the development and function of the retina, and a mutation in any one of them can cause visual impairment. — Marilee Griffin

Improving oral health

Many people delay and even skip visits to the dentist due to anxiety and fear. Now UF researchers have discovered that difficulty understanding and using health information, a skill known as health literacy, is another key reason they avoid the dentist a phenomenon that contributes to poor oral health in rural, low-income and vulnerable U.S. populations. While race, gender, education, financial status and access to dental care are typically reported as risk factors for poor oral health, a team of UF Health researchers has demonstrated that a lack of health literacy also significantly contributes to poor oral health. The team, led by Yi Guo, Ph.D., included researchers from the UF Southeast Center for Research to Reduce Disparities in Oral Health. They used a complex statistical model to evaluate patient-dentist communication and gain insight into the role that health literacy plays in the quality of the oral health in rural, low-income populations. — Elizabeth Hillaker Downs

Preventing cancer

The Florida Department of Health has awarded $1.6 million to UF to help establish a statewide network that will quickly bring the benefits of research in labs and other clinical settings to more than 9 million patients in all of Florida’s 67 counties. The network will initially create tobacco cessation programs in doctors’ offices around the state in a coordinated effort to prevent cancers and other cardiovascular diseases related to tobacco use. The tobacco cessation programs are part of a statewide network called “OneFlorida” that links three Florida universities to translate research findings into practice. Led by Institute for Child Health Policy director Betsy Shenkman, Ph.D., and David R. Nelson, M.D., of UF’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, the network builds on statewide research infrastructure developed by UF and Florida State University and is expanding to include the University of Miami, along with the universities’ affiliated health practices. In total, the network will encompass 22 hospitals, 416 clinic settings and 3,250 physician providers, which covers 39 percent of Florida’s patient population. — Elizabeth Hillaker Downs