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The Australian National University

Dr Riccardo Natoli Natoli

PhD, BSC Hons
ANU College of Health and Medicine
T: +61 2 6125 8559

Areas of expertise

  • Vision Science 111303
  • Cell Physiology 111601
  • Central Nervous System 110903
  • Cell Metabolism 060104
  • Sensory Systems 110906
  • Ophthalmology 111301
  • Cell Development, Proliferation And Death 060103

Research interests

If you were asked, what was the one sense that you couldn't live without, most of you would have immediately thought of your sight. That is because our vision plays an integral role into how we perceive the world around us. Without research into the prevention of vision loss from retinal degenerations it is guaranteed that 1 in 7 people will lose the sense of sight. - Jooshua Chu-Tan (3MT Winner, 2016).

Our main research interest is to understand the factors that cause photoreceptors, the light sensing cells of the retina, to die with age and devising novel strategies to prevent degeneration. The main disease we focus on is Age-Related Macular Degeneration specifically trying to understand the oxidative stress and inflammation facets of the disease.

Biography

I completed my PhD in 2009 (Research School of Biology, Australian National University) exploring the roles oxidative stress plays in progressing retinal degenerations at the Research School of Biology at the Australian National University. Since graduating I have focused on factors that influence retinal degeneration, including oxidative stress, cell death and inflammation, and devising novel strategies for the treatment of retinal degenerations. Our current focus is understanding the role of non-coding RNA (ncRNA) including microRNA (miRNA) and there role in causing vision loss. We believe that by understanding these mechanisms we will be able to reverse engineer biological processes in order to identify therapeutic molecules or pathways. We believe that oxidative stress and immune dysregulation play pivotal roles in retinal degenerations and have identified a number of therapeutic avenues being explored both academically and commercially.

Researcher's projects

1. MicroRNA as regulators of inflammation and the inflammasome

The most common cause of blindness in Australia is Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), costing the Australian economy ~5 billion dollars annually and ~350 billion dollars globally. The study of miRNAs will provide a new avenue for drug discovery for diseases such as AMD, and have applications for other neurodegenerative diseases. MiRNA are small non-coding RNA molecules that post transcriptionally regulate gene expression and are considered the ‘master regulators’ of gene transcription. We are looking at using miRNA as therapeutics to reduce inflammation and inflammasome activation in retinal degenerations.

 

2. Molecular and epigenetic regulation by recruited and resident monocytes in retinal degeneration

Dysregulation of microglia/macrophages is a key pathogenic mechanism underlying many age-related neurodegenerative diseases, highlighting the importance of understanding how these cells respond to ageing and stress. We are deciphering the molecular profile of the resident microglia and recruited macrophages in the retina, to further understand their role in disease progression and to explore the possibility of reprogramming ageing cells to a quiescent state in order to preserve retinal function.

 

3. Novel therapeutics for reducing the progression of Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Current projections indicate that by 2030, 1.7 million people in Australia will suffer vision loss due to Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), with a major contribution being the current lack of treatment options available for the more prevalent atrophic or ‘dry’ form of the disease. We are exploring a number of therapeutic options, including gene-based therapies, non-invasive therapeutics and novel compounds. We are actively engaging with commercial partners to help develop strategies to reduce inflammation and cell death in all forms of AMD.


4. The role of complement in retinal degeneration

Dysregulation of complement is strongly associated with Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD). However, the events that lead to complement activation are poorly understood, and how complement causes photoreceptor cell loss is not known. We have developed a unique mouse model of photo-oxidative retinal damage, which mimics facets of the more prevalent form of AMD, ‘dry’ AMD, for which there are no current treatments. Using this model and human tissue we have found that retinal microglia are responsible for depositing complement, and are exploring if inhibition of this pathway is protective against progressive retinal cell death.

 

Available student projects

We are always looking out for fantastic students to be involved with our group. Projects will focus on aspects of the current projects indicated above including:

1. MicroRNA as regulators of inflammation and the inflammasome

2. Molecular and epigenetic regulation by recruited and resident monocytes in retinal degeneration

3. Novel therapeutics for reducing the progression of Age-Related Macular Degeneration

4. The role of complement in retinal degeneration

We enjoy meeting and discussing projects with potential students to tailor projects to the individual. If you are interested in being involved in our research please don't hesitate to contact me at any time.

Current student projects

1. MicroRNA as regulators of inflammation and the inflammasome

-Nilisha Fernando, Joshua Chu-Tan, Yvette Wooff and Riemke Aggio-Bruce

2. Molecular and epigenetic regulation by recruited and resident monocytes in retinal degeneration

- Riemke Aggio-Bruce

3. Novel therapeutics for reducing the progression of Age-Related Macular Degeneration

- Nilisha Fernando and Yen-Zhen Lu

4. The role of complement in retinal degeneration

- Nilisha Fernando,Helen Jiao and Tanja Racic 

5. The role of GSTO1 in retinal degnerations

- Nilisha Fernando and Yvette Wooff


Past student projects

The role of complement in retinal degeneration

- Dr Matt Rutar (University of Melbourne)

Publications

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Updated:  14 December 2017 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers