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 improving current approaches to manage patients with diabetic retinopathy.

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

Of the various complications of diabetes mellitus (DM), retinopathy is the most-feared, and eventually develops in over 80% of patients with DM. Retinopathy results at least in part due to DM-induced oxidative stress, which drives progressive and self-perpetuating damage of the retinal vasculature.

The long delay between the onset of DM to the development of retinopathy suggests the existence of processes that prevent retinal pathogenesis. We discovered that hyperglycemia (HG) induces adaptation at the level of the mitochondria within primary human retinal endothelial cells. Our ongoing research tests the hypothesis that soon after the onset of DM, retinal vessels undergo adaption, which protects them from succumbing to retinopathy that occurs only after loss of such adaption (Fig 1).


The three aims of this project are to: fully characterize adaptation and elucidate the underlying mechanism using primary human retinal vascular cells (aim 1); determine the relevance of adaptation in experimental animals (aim 2); and investigate the role of adaptation in patients (aim 3).

Retinal Angiogenesis


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


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

Office Location: L221

Email: [email protected]
Ph. No. +1 781-475-9479


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