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NEI Summer Science at Home

NEI will host a series of seminars on Fridays during the summer, focused on vision research and ophthalmology. The mission of the NEI is to conduct and support research, training, health information dissemination, and other programs with respect to blinding eye diseases, visual disorders, mechanisms of visual function, preservation of sight, and the special health problems and requirements of the blind. This series will cover a variety of the research conducted at the NEI, including topics on how discoveries in our research program go from the lab to the clinic and back, the unique immunology of the eye, the neurobiology of vision, among other topics in vision and ophthalmology.

These presentations will be available via Zoom and will be held from 12 to 1 pm Eastern Daylight Time


June 19

Malika Nimmagadda and Cesar Perez-Gonzalez, Ph.D.
Life as a Summer Intern at the NEI
Password: NEI2020

Ms. Malika Nimmagadda has a well-rounded view on what it is like to be a trainee in both clinical and basic sciences research settings at the NEI. For many people, adjusting to working and learning in a new environment can seem overwhelming. Hearing from someone who has been through the program first-hand will hopefully give you an idea of what to expect and ease any sense of uncertainty or pressure that you may be feeling. Additionally, Dr. Perez will provide a brief overview of the summer and postbac programs and will be on hands to answer questions.

Malika Nimmagadda graduated from Vanderbilt University with a degree in neuroscience. Through her studies she found her curiosities peaked when learning about the eye, and specifically the retina. Malika first stepped onto the NIH’s campus as a summer student in the NEI clinic, and now she is a post-baccalaureate fellow in the ocular and stem cell translational research section at the NEI.

Dr. Cesar Perez-Gonzalez is the Training Director and Summer Intern Program Coordinator for the NEI, managing and overseeing the training program in the institute. A former NIH postdoctoral fellow, Cesar received his Ph.D. from the University of Rochester in biology, focusing on retrotransposable elements in Drosophila, and got his Bachelor’s in Genetics at Iowa State University.

June 26

Rongwen Lu, Ph.D.
Rapid in vivo Imaging with Subcellular Resolution in the Visual System:
from Retina to the Brain
Password: NEI2020

Understanding how neuronal circuits process the visual sensory input is an essential goal of vision science. Optical imaging allows in vivo noninvasive study of the neuron in the physiological context. Neurons exert their functions through dynamic processes that occur at spatially complex subunits, which requires high resolution to resolve subcellular structures as well as rapid speed to capture fast neuronal activity. In this talk, I will focus on the optical methods we developed for high-resolution and high-speed imaging of neurons in both the retina and the brain.

Dr. Rongwen Lu is currently a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Johnny Tam’s lab at the National Eye Institute. He received his M.S. in Vision Science from Indiana University at Bloomington in 2010 and his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2014. He completed his first postdoctoral training at Janelia Research Campus, Howard Hughes Medical Institute. His research interest is to develop novel optical techniques to better image neurons in the retina and the brain.

July 10

Nilisha Fernando, Ph.D. and Will Montgomery
The Role of Immune Cells in Blinding Diseases of the Eye
Password: NEI2020

​​​​​​Immune system activation in the eye, whether in response to a pathogen or through chronic inflammation, can cause severe damage to the retina, the light-sensing part of the eye. We discuss how the immune system can lead to blindness in two different types of eye diseases: 1) Ocular Toxoplasmosis, in which infection with the T. gondii parasite can lead to retinal scarring and vision loss, and 2) Age-related Macular Degeneration, in which the immune system can cause progressive retinal degeneration and vision loss during aging.

Dr. Nilisha Fernando is a Postdoctoral Visiting Fellow in Dr. Han-Yu Shih's lab, the Neuroimmune Regulome Unit at the NEI. She completed her PhD and first postdoctoral position at the Australian National University, focused on the role of immune cells in the progression of Age-related Macular Degeneration.

William Montgomery is a Postbaccalaureate IRTA in Dr. Han-Yu Shih's lab, the Neuroimmune Regulome Unit at the NEI. He is a graduate of Pomona College, Claremont, California.


July 17

Alicia Kerr, Ph.D.
Visual Processing and How Optical Illusions Trick Your Brain
Password: NEI2020

Vision is more than meets the eye, the brain is necessary for receiving and interpreting visual information. In this talk, I’ll cover the steps the brain takes to process visual information and how these can be manipulated by optical illusions and why you can’t believe everything you think you see.

Dr. Alicia Kerr is a postdoctoral fellow in the Laboratory of Retinal Cell and Molecular Biology. She received her PhD from Virginia Tech in Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health, focusing on the formation and maintenance of synapses in the subcortical visual system.

July 24

Amy Zhang, Ph.D.
Microbiota-Immune Interactions – Case Studies in the Eye
Password: NEI2020

​​​​​​Host-associated microbiota, particularly those at mucosal sites such as the intestine and surface of the eye, have been shown to play an important role in modulating host immunity both locally and systemically. In this lecture, I will introduce two studies that examined the intricate relationship between the mucosal microbiota and host immune system. Study #1 showcases the existence of an ocular commensal microbe that helps to protect the eye against fungal and bacterial infections. Study #2 describes a scenario in which the gut microbiota might be a trigger of autoimmunity in the eye.

Dr. Amy Zhang is a postdoctoral fellow at the Immunoregulation Section, Laboratory of Immunology, National Eye Institute. She received her Ph.D. from SUNY Binghamton studying microbial diversity from environmental samples. Trained in evolutionary genetics and transitioning into the immunology field, she is currently working on projects that investigate the influence of host-associated microbiota on autoimmunity in the eye.

July 31

James Liu
Bedside to Bench Side: Translational research at the NEI
Password: NEI2020

​​​​​​Research at the NEI centers around the prevention and treatment of eye diseases and visual disorders. This session will talk about the basics of the eye, and several common and rare eye disorders that occur in the general population (Diabetic Retinopathy, Age-related Macular Degeneration, Retinitis Pigmentosa, Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis, etc.). Labs at the NEI help bridge our knowledge gap by studying the molecular and cellular mechanisms of these diseases in animal models and patient cells. We can even generate 3D retinal organoids derived from patient cells to study retinal diseases! Lastly, I’ll cover the diverse potential careers in eye research.

Jimmy Liu is a graduate student at the Medical Genetics and Ophthalmic Genomics Unit (Rob Hufnagel’s lab) at the NEI. He is currently in the Johns Hopkins-NIH Graduate Partnerships Program (GPP) and he received his B.S in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at University of Maryland College Park. His thesis focuses on uncovering the molecular mechanisms of a spectrum of neurological disorders implicated by PNPLA6, a gene that is responsible for lipid homeostasis in the nervous system.

August 14

Dinusha Rajapakse, Ph.D.
Minerals and Proteins in the Eye:
A Potential Therapeutic Target for Dry Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
Password: NEI2020

​​​​​​Deposition of hydroxyapatite minerals in the basal retinal cell layers is linked to progression of dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD). We recently discovered that a protein responsible for tooth enamel formation (Amelotin) is also expressed in the eye and is associated with mineral accumulation in dry AMD donor eyes. This talk will focus on: (1) the role of hydroxyapatite minerals in AMD, (2) discovery of Amelotin expression in the eye, (3) its characterization in cellular and human ex vivo model systems, and (4) potential of Amelotin as a therapeutic target and the path to drug discovery.

Dr. Dinusha Rajapakse is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Dr. Graeme Wistow’s lab, the Section on Molecular Structure and Functional Genomics, National Eye Institute. She received her Ph.D. in Experimental Medicine from Queen’s University, Belfast, United Kingdom in 2016. During her postdoctoral training, her research focus has been on characterizing the role of proteo-lipid compounds in the progression of AMD.

August 21

Ryan Kelley, Ph.D.
Using Patient-derived Stem Cells to Create 3D Lab-grown Organs that Can Model Disease and Screen Novel Therapeutics.
Password: NEI2020

Patient skin cells can now be converted into stem cells that can be differentiated into any cell type in the human body. Using the proper molecular cues can coax these cells into becoming small representations of the central nervous system. At the National Eye Institute, we use these technologies to create small retinas that can recapitulate the patients’ disease state. However, this new model of disease is not complete and work still needs to be done to help bring new therapeutics from the laboratory bench to the clinic. The focus of my current research is to fill these gaps in knowledge and generate patient derived retinas that are fully functional to test novel therapeutics.

Dr. Ryan Kelley is a postdoctoral fellow in the Retinal Cell Biology and Degeneration Section led by Dr. Tiansen Li. He graduated with a BS in Microbiology from the University of Oklahoma and then a PhD in Cell biology from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. For the past decade he has studied retinal degeneration and neuroregeneration.

Last updated: July 14, 2020