The primary aim of this project is to cause oxidative stress in human optic nerve head astrocytes and examine the cytoskeleton of astrocytes in elevated oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is known as an imbalance between the production of reactive oxygen species and antioxidant defenses. Oxidative stress can be harmful to cells, proteins, and DNA and it is known to be a risk factor for glaucoma. Glaucoma is a neurodegenerative disease of the eye and the second leading cause for blindness. Another major risk factor for glaucoma is elevated intraocular pressure (IOP). Elevated IOP can be due to increased mechanical stress in the eye. A static mechanical strain on the astrocytes serves to mimic elevated IOP and can induce elevated oxidative stress. The experiment uses a Flexcell 2000 system to apply 10% static mechanical strain to the astrocytes growing on silicone plates.
The 10 weeks of research experience gave me some snapshots of how research is conducted in a professional laboratory. While many experiments may be conducted independently, members of the lab work as a team to identify the cause of a problem, then offer possible solutions to a problem, and finally maximize efficiency with a limited time and resource. Beside learning to be a team player, I also learned that experiments usually fail many times and have to through multiple corrections. Even then, the experiment may still be inadequate to answer the research question. Although I am a mechanical engineering student and my projected career will unlikely be in the ophthalmology field, the research experience I gain is still applicable to me. Engineering is about problem-solving and research is not any different.