The best way to learn about research ongoing in the Schwend lab and to find out how you can get involved is to visit the Schwend Lab Website.
Following nerve damage, injured neurons have a limited capacity to reestablish functional circuits. A major obstacle to regeneration facing damaged nerve fibers is a harsh extrinsic environment containing an array of inhibitory molecules, including secreted nerve guidance molecules and glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). The latter group of molecules includes chondroitin sulfate (CS) and keratan sulfate (KS), both of which are commonly associated with mature, adult tissues that do not support nerve regeneration. This highlights GAGs as potential therapeutic targets to enhance repair in the nervous system following injury.
Devising therapeutic strategies to overcome the inhibitory nature of GAGs on regenerating nerve fibers has been limited by a fragmentary understanding of how nerves interpret complex molecular and structural guidance cues from GAGs. To overcome this, my research focuses on understanding how GAGs (and other extracellular matrix molecules) influence nerve pathfinding and growth decisions in the developing embryo. Gaining a mechanistic understanding of how developing nerves interpret and respond to these extrinsic cues will foster therapies designed to overcome their influence and promote nerve regeneration following injury.
Research in my lab utilizes the embryonic chick as a model system and focus on the cornea. The cornea is the most densely innervated tissue on the surface of the body (this is why it hurts when you get something in it!) and its nerves are often damaged following corrective surgeries, such as LASIK. Nerve regeneration in the cornea occurs slowly, if at all, and my lab remains interested in understanding mechanistically how the abundance of a diverse array of corneal GAGs may be negatively influencing neuro-regeneration in the cornea.
Students in my lab carry out molecular, cellular, biochemical and histological techniques in a living vertebrate model system in an effort to provide other vision scientists and ophthalmologists with invaluable insight into regenerative therapies following corneal nerve damage.
Dr. Schwend teaches