Ongoing Research in the Kazlauskas Lab

After a multi-decade period in academia, Dr. Kazlauskas closed his research lab at the Schepens Eye Research Institute/Harvard Medical School to transition to F. Hofmann-La Roche in Basel, Switzerland, where he joined the Department of Ophthalmology and contributed to the drug development process. In 2017 Dr. Kazlauskas re-started academic research focused on preventing patients with diabetes from developing diabetic retinopathy, and improving current approaches to treat this condition.

Pharmacosignaling in PDR
The goal of this project is to elucidate the molecular basis of anti-VEGF’s benefit in patients with proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR). The clinical observation that neutralizing VEGF reduces retinal edema and improves visual acuity in most patients, motivates us to investigate the underlying mechanism of this phenomenon. To this end we are first identifying changes in gene expression and signaling events that are associated with anti-VEGF treatment in patients. The next step is to determine which of these changes are responsible for the therapeutic benefit. These discoveries will guide the design of alternative therapies for patients that do not fully benefit from existing anti-VEGFs. Furthermore, we will develop biomarkers that will improve our ability to diagnose susceptibility, monitor both disease progression, and the efficacy of intervention.

Preventing diabetic retinopathy
The delay in development of diabetic retinopathy (DR) in most patients with diabetes (DM) indicates the existence of an endogenous system that protects the retina from DM-induced damage (Fig 1). We posit that failure of this system is a prerequisite for DR, and its persistence underlies the extended delay (> 50 years) of DR in medalists, which is unrelated to glycemic control. The nature of the system that protects from DR has not been investigated at least in part due to the paucity of experimental systems that model it. Identifying the molecular mediators of this endogenous system along with their mechanism of action will enable development of novel approaches to prevent DR, which would be of substantial benefit in light of the ineffectiveness of currently available prophylactic options.


We developed novel in vitro and ex vivo assays to model the endogenous system that protects the retinal vasculature from DM-driven damage. Using these assays we discovered that prolonged exposure of primary human retinal endothelial cells (HRECs) to hyperglycemia (HG) triggers adaptation, which results in resistance to the damaging effects of HG. Furthermore, the underlying mechanism of adaption involves a shift in metabolism and improved mitochondrial functionality. Importantly, key features of this in vitro phenomenon appear to occur in the retinal vessels of mice. We are continuing to investigate the endogenous system that protects the retinal vasculature from DM-driven damage.

Retinal Angiogenesis


Our lab consists of a principal investigator and a highly motivated and enthusiastic research team: three postdoctoral fellows, a graduate student, a research technician, a clinical research coordinator, and three medical students.

Dr. Kazlauskas



Andrius Kazlauskas, PhD is a vascular biologist seeking to understand the pathogenesis of blinding eye diseases. He received his PhD in Chemistry from Cleveland State University, and was a postdoc at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, where he investigated signaling pathways by which receptor tyrosine kinase initiated cell proliferation in the context of cancer. As a faculty member at the University of Colorado and then Harvard Medical School, Dr. Kazlauskas interrogated signaling events underlying pathogenesis of cancer and retinal disorders such as proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR), age-related macular degeneration and proliferative vitreoretinopathy. Dr. Kazlauskas obtained first-hand experience and insight in translational research while working in the Ophthalmology Department of F. Hoffman-La Roche in Basel, Switzerland. He returned to academia to elucidate signaling networks responsible for pathogenesis, and how therapeutic intervention rewires them.

Lina Lietuvninkas


Lina completed her BS degree in Biology from the University of Oklahoma. She is currently assisting in research on the effects of Activin on VEGF-induced permeability in hyperglycemic endothelial cells. In the future she would like to attend graduate school and continue work in research.

Yueru Li


Postdoctoral Fellow

Basma completed her PhD at Carthage University, Tunisia. She is evaluating changes in gene expression and their contribution to VEGF and anti-VEGF control of permeability in high glucose cultured human retinal endothelial cells.

Yueru Li


Graduate Student

Anara completed her MSc degree at Nazarbayev University, Kazakhstan. The goal of her project is to durably (via gene therapy) overcome diabetes-induced angiogenic dysfunction that is responsible for diabetic retinopathy.

Yueru Li


Medical Student

Mark completed his BS degree at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and is now an M1 at UIC’s College of Medicine. He is currently investigating how gene expression contributes toward oxidative stress in retinal endothelial cells leading to diabetic retinopathy with the goal of developing tools to alter expression and determine its effects on the pathogenesis of retinopathy.

Yueru Li


Medical Student

Norma completed her BA in Biochemistry at Judson University. She is currently working towards understanding the oxidative stress induced by proliferative diabetic retinopathy.

Eyad Hamad


Medical Student

Eyad completed his BA in Neuroscience at Northwestern University. He is currently investigating the effectors of VEGF’s control on the endothelial cell barrier.

Sudeshna De


Clinical Research Coordinator

Sudeshna completed her bachelor’s degree in Zoology from India. Then she did an MPH. She finished another Masters in Environmental and Occupational Health from UIC. She joined the project, “Pharmacosignaling in PDR” as a Clinical Research Coordinator. She will be responsible for managing and coordinating the timely handling of all components of clinical research protocols, including pre and post research activities, internal and external to the clinical setting for the project. She will be associated with developing and implementing effective patient recruitment strategies, as well as subject recruitment, screening, scheduling, testing, and data management.

Sudeshna De



Max completed his PhD at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His research focuses on the processes involved in the pathological opening of blood vessels in the retina and how anti-VEGF therapy reverses this in patients.

Sudeshna De



Yanliang earned her PhD degree in a joint program between UIC and Fudan Uvinersity, China in 2021. She is investigating the mechanism that delays the onset of retinopathy in diabetic mice.

Sudeshna De


Medical Student

Amy completed her BA in neuroscience and global health at Northwestern University. Prior to medical school, she worked as a technician at an ophthalmology clinic. She is currently investigating the role of hyperglycemia-induced mitochondrial adaptation in the delayed onset of diabetic retinopathy, specifically, differentiating between endothelial cell and pericyte responses.


University of Illinois at Chicago
Lions Illinois Eye Research Institute
1905 W Taylor St.; Room 245
Chicago, IL 60612

Office Location: L221

Email: ak20@uic.edu
Ph. No. +1 781-475-9479