How do genes transform a single layer of cells into a three-dimensional organ? Amit Singh, associate professor of biology and interim director of the Center for Tissue Regeneration and Engineering at Dayton (TREND) aims to find out.

When cells do not properly become three-dimensional, organs are half-formed or not formed at all, Singh explained. For example, people are born without eyes or have eye defects that affect their vision.

Under a new $439,499 grant from the National Institutes of Health, Singh is studying early eye development in fruit flies to understand the molecular basis of retinal disease and birth defects in the human eye.

“What we are trying to understand is how these genes control this process of delineating three-dimensional structure from a monolayer organ,” Singh said. “Understanding how this transcription factor works will not only have implications on birth defects of the eye, but it will also help us understand how it is involved in the growth of cancer.” 

The project is funded through July 2020 and will employ a postdoctoral researcher, two graduate students — one full-time and one part-time — and three undergraduate student researchers.

The current investigation builds on an earlier research project, in which Singh received a $218,250 NIH grant to study the genetic circuitry involved in regulating eye cell growth and patterning. Under that award, Singh identified genes responsible for the three-dimensional patterning process along the dorso-ventral axis; how the boundary between the eye and head structure is formed; and a transcription factor that could play a role in where the eye is placed on the head.

In addition to early eye development, Singh’s lab focuses on early detection of Alzheimer’s. In June, he was awarded a University of Dayton STEM Catalystgrant to identify targets and drug-like molecules for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease by studying the effects of amyloid protein.