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2008 fulbright awards: Winning eye for fish eyes

November 13, 2008

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SFU biologist Inigo Novales Flamarique will spend next spring carrying out research as a Fulbright visiting chair in neurosciences at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Flamarique, an expert in retinal neurobiology, is interested in sensory processing in aquatic organisms. His research focuses on the visual systems of fish (primarily salmon) as models to study development and sensory processing in the vertebrate retina. Flamarique’s work will involve the investigation of several proteins whose function may be disrupted during the onset of two human retinal diseases—retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration. The diseases are the two main causes of blindness in the developed world.

The proteins he will investigate—using the northern anchovy as a model organism—are responsible for the structural integrity and proper function of retinal photoreceptors.

"Our studies will attempt to reveal the distribution of these proteins in the intact retina, and will then try to characterize their function by interfering with their production, using pharmacological agents," he explains.

The results could serve as the basis for gene therapies that target the production of specific proteins needed to restore photoreceptor function and normal vision.

Meanwhile, an SFU honours graduate in engineering now hooked on investigative reporting is the recipient of a prestigious Fulbright award. Rhiannon Coppin, who graduated from SFU in 2004, will use the $15,000 award to complete a one-year master’s degree program in journalism at Columbia University in New York. The Fulbright awards are intended to foster relations between Canada and the U.S. and encourage exchanges between academics.

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