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Florida Atlantic University & Max Planck Florida Institute - Integrative Biology and Neuroscience

Integrative Biology and Neuroscience Faculty - Dr. Janet Blanks


Dr. Janet Blanks

(561) 297-4310
Flatmount of a fixed mouse retina at postnatal day 17. Blood vessels labeled with isolectin B4. Rat primary astrocyte cultures lablled with rabbit anti-GFAP primary antibody and counter stained with DAPI. Retinal section from mouse following laser-induced choroidal neovascularization and counter-stained with DAPI. Activated Müller glia cells (green) immunolabelled with anti-GFAP, blood vessels (red) perfused with Tomato lectin. Rat primary culture of neurons and astrocytes:  Astrocytes are labeled with anti-GFAP primary antibody (red) and counter stained with DAPI indicating nuclei in both astrocytes and neurons.

Director, Center for Complex Systems and Brain Sciences
College of Science
Florida Atlantic University

Research Description

Research in the Blanks' lab at Florida Atlantic University is currently focused on developing and testing unique hypoxia-regulated, cell specific recombinant Adeno-Associated Virus (rAAV) vectors for gene therapy of different target cell types within the eye and brain. This research collaboration with Howard Prentice Ph.D. (Associate Professor, School of Medicine at FAU) and Kathleen Dorey Ph.D. (Professor, Virginia Tech/Carilion Hospital School of Medicine, Roanoak, VA) brings together experts in the fields of ocular cell biology and vascular biology. The project focus is to create a series of third generation gene therapy vectors for preclinical trials and ultimate therapeutic application in retinal diseases involving neovascularization (NV). These rAAV vectors are being tested in rodent models that leads to retinal NV. The initial phase of the project involved construction of several hypoxia-regulated promoters with differing tissue specificities by integrating the RPE65 or GFAP (Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein) promoters in a reporter plasmid and conducting in-vitro testing in hypoxic and normoxic cell cultures. The RPE65 promoter limits hypoxic transgene expression to the Retinal Pigment Epithelial (RPE) layer in the posterior eye (see Dougherty, C.J., et al., Molecular Vision. 2008) while the GFAP promoter limits hypoxic transgene expression to the major glial cell in the retina, the Müller cell. The regulated GFAP-specific vector was tested in cultures of primary Muller cells and in the oxygen induced model of retinopathy (OIR) in mice (see Prentice and Biswal, et al., Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 2011 (Epub ahead of print) [ PMID: 21960554 ].

The hypoxia-regulated RPE-vector carrying the angiostatic gene, endostatin, was tested in the laser-induced model of choroidal NV, characteristic of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Expression of endostatin resulted in significant reduction in the size of the choroidal NV lesions (almost 80% compared to PBS-injected controls, article in preparation). Six-month prophylactic treatment with the same vector also showed similar reduction in CNV area. Since death of RPE cells causes progressive blindness in AMD, this technology could be used to treat a multitude of patients suffering from this devastating, blinding disease.

Research Interests

  • Gene therapy
  • Retinal degeneration
  • Neuroprotection in the retina
  • Mammalian retinal development and differentiation


  • Ph.D., University of California, Anatomy

Recent Publications

  • Prentice, H.M., Biswal, M., Smith, G.W., Webster, K.A., Dorey, C.K. and Blanks, J.C. Construction of Hypoxia-Regulated and Cell-Specific Adeno-Associated Vectors for Retinal Glia. Revised manuscript under review for Investigative Ophthalmology and Vision Research.
  • Smith, George W, Dorey, C. Kathleen, Prentice, Howard, and Janet Blanks. The Importance of Hypoxia-regulated, RPE-targeted Gene Therapy for Choroidal Neovascularization. Proceedings of the RD2010 (Symposium on Retinal Degeneration). Book Chapter: (in press).
  • Biswal M, Prentice, H, and Blanks J. Hypoxia responsive vectors targeting astrocytes in brain. Invited, peer-review chapter in press in book: "Glioma/Book 3", ISBN 979-953-307-198-4.
  • Nachman-Clewner,M., Giblin, FJ., Dorey, C.K., Blanks, R.H.I., Dang, L., Dougherty, C.J. and Blanks J.C. Selective Degeneration of Central Retinal Photoreceptors Following Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment in Normal and Metallothionein-Knockout Mice. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 49:3207-3215, 2008.

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