Ongoing Research in the Kazlauskas Lab

The overall goal of the Kazlauskas Lab is to elucidate the effect of diabetes (DM) on the retinal vasculature. The resulting conceptual advances will guide development of new therapeutic approaches to prevent patients with DM from developing diabetic retinopathy (DR), and improve current options to treat patients who have already developed DR. The two areas of research in the Kazlauskas Lab are summarized below; please see our recent publications for additional information:


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. We are focusing on VEGF- and anti-VEGF-regulated changes in gene expression, which are required to persistently alter the permeability of the retinal vasculature. To this end we use both in vitro models, and pathological blood vessels isolated from patients with PDR. We seek to identify the molecular governors of chronic leakage. Such information will enable design of alternatives to anti-VEGFs, as well as new biomarkers to improve our ability to diagnose susceptibility, monitor disease progression and the efficacy of intervention.

Protection from diabetic retinopathy (DR)

The delay in development of site-threatening DR in most patients with DM indicates the existence of an endogenous system that protects the retina from DM-induced damage. Just like patients, manifestation of DR in experimental animals is delayed from the onset of DM. We recently reported that this delay in mice was associated with increased retinal expression of antioxidative defense genes, as well as resistance of the retinal vasculature to oxidative stress-induced death. Protection was transient; it waned as the duration of DM was prolonged and DR developed. To investigate the mechanism of protection we used primary human retinal endothelial cells that tolerate exposure to high glucose by undergo hyperglycemia-induced mitochondrial adaptation (HIMA), which involves enhance mitophagy and improved mitochondrial functionality. Our ongoing studies seek to elucidate how DM/hyperglycemia trigger protection and what causes its loss.


  • Kazlauskas research image
  • Kazlauskas lab outing


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, an intern, and four 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.

Yueru Li

Basma Baccouche, PHD

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.

Maximilian McCann

Maximilian McCann, PHD


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.

Janani Rajasekar

Janani Rajasekar, PhD


Janani Rajasekar completed her PhD in Biological Sciences from CSIR-CFTRI, India. She is currently working on identifying the gene expression patterns in retina to understand the role of cellular adaption involved in delayed onset of diabetic retinopathy.

Sudeshna De

Yanliang Li, MD, PHD


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

Helena Chang Zin Ying

PhD Candidate

Helena obtained her bachelor’s degree in Microbiology at UC Davis and is currently a Ph.D. student in the GEMS program at UIC. After earning her BS, Helena worked as a research assistant in Dr. Sungjin Kim’s lab on adaptive NK cells for three years. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she had the opportunity to work part-time at the COVID lab, processing saliva samples with RT-PCR. Helena’s research focus in the Kazlauskas lab is to understand the mechanism used by HRECs to resist oxidative stress in high glucose.

Yueru Li

Norma Del Risco

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.

Sudeshna De

Amy Song, BA

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.

Sudeshna De

Brandon Cho, BA

Medical Student

Brandon completed his BA in neuroscience at Northwestern University. Before medical school, Brandon worked as a research technologist for two years at the Li Lab at Feinberg School of Medicine. His project is to test the hypothesis that mitophagy is required for protection from diabetic retinopathy in mice.


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


Illinois Eye and Infirmary Logo
Join Mailing List