This profile is part of a series to highlight the researchers who will be honored at a ceremony for UNMC's 2020 Scientist Laureate, Distinguished Scientist and New Investigator Award recipients.
- Name: Matt Van Hook, PhD
- Title: Assistant professor, UNMC Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, College of Medicine
- Joined UNMC: 2011 (as a postdoc); joined faculty in 2016
- Hometown: Framingham, Massachusetts
New Investigator Award
New Investigator Awards go to outstanding UNMC scientists who in the past two years have secured their first funding from the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense or other national sources. New investigators also had to demonstrate scholarly activity such as publishing their research and/or presenting their findings at national conventions.
- Neuroscience of glaucoma
The goal of my research is: to unravel the neurobiological processes linking injury to neurodegeneration in diseases of the visual system. My lab addresses this by using inducible and inherited mouse models of glaucoma, a blinding neurodegenerative disease commonly associated with pressure-induced injury to retinal ganglion cell axons as they exit the eye and form the optic nerve.
We use patch-clamp electrophysiology, optogenetics, synaptic physiology, two-photon microscopy and neuroanatomy techniques, and we have found that elevated eye pressure triggers pronounced changes to synaptic transmission and neuronal responses in visual centers of the brain. These changes include increased synaptic transmission, altered dendritic structure, and enhanced neuronal excitability.
We think that these are among the earliest signs of disease, occurring prior to major degeneration of retinal ganglion cells, suggesting that they might represent a homeostatic scaling of neuronal function to preserve vision in the face of compromised optic nerve health. Moving into the future, we will further determine how glaucoma affects the ability of neurons to send visual information to the brain and uncover the neurobiological mechanisms and molecular signals regulating that process.
My research will make a difference because: it will shed light on the link between eye pressure and neuronal function/dysfunction in the visual pathway as well as the key neuronal signaling mechanisms that go awry during disease. This will be critical for developing novel diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to prevent blindness and restore sight.
The best advice I've ever been given is:
"Keep your nose to the grindstone."
Three things you may not know about me are:
- I grow a fairly large vegetable garden in my backyard (every year I seem to add to it.) Some of my favorite vegetables to grow are winter squash (I ended up with about 30 acorn squash last season) and kale, partially because of their versatility in the kitchen.
- I enjoy amateur woodworking and have built several pieces of furniture that get good use around the house including a bed, a dresser, bookshelves, nightstands, benches and chairs.
- After having taken nearly five years of martial arts classes as a kid/teen (followed by a 22-year-long hiatus), I recently started taekwondo and am trying to catch up in rank to my 9-year-old daughter (who started over a year ago).
Congratulations Dr. Van Hook!!