Rajesh Rao Lab

Our Research

Imagine a set of blinding diseases that are, each, nearly as common as all cancers put together. And despite being so common, further imagine that for each of these diseases, no treatments exist that restore vision. This is unlike cancer and heart disease, which do have treatments that restore function. Such vision-robbing disease include "dry" age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma. The feature shared by all these disorders is that critical cells in the light sensitive tissue of the eye, the retina, die. These retinal cells do not regenerate. This creates an unmet need for millions of Americans struggling because they cannot read, drive, recognize faces, or lead an independent life.

Vision loss and cancer share key features: they are common and life-changing, and they stand out among many other conditions as afflictions Americans are most scared of having. Retinal diseases and cancers that affect the eye and orbit (surrounding tissue of the eye) share another unflattering feature: they lack targeted therapies based on their genetic alterations. For eye cancers, this is especially unfortunate. We are in an era of precision medicine, when particular genetic changes linked to specific cancers are being exploited for the development of powerful, game-changing cancer therapies, such as Gleevec for chronic myelogenous leukemia, crizotonib for ALK-rearranged lung cancer, BRAF inhibitors for BRAF-mutant melanomas, and many others. That similar, genetically tailored treatments do not exist for eye cancers creates another acute need for individuals with eye cancers.

Our lab is devoted to these unmet needs. Specifically, we use stem cell biology, genomics and epigenetics as languages to better understand how the retina forms, so that we can learn new ways to generate the retinal cells that die in disease, with the hope of regenerating cells through cell or drug therapies. We also use these technologies to make new insights into how eye/orbit cancers develop and to determine whether they harbor the genetic "achilles heals" that render them vulnerable to molecularly targeted therapies.

We invite you to explore our projects and learn about our team. We are always looking for energetic and motivated team members and partners who are interested in strengthening our mission: to make the foundational insights that will transform the understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of blinding retinal diseases and deadly eye cancers.

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Research Opportunities

We’re always looking for motivated, curious, and creative individuals from a variety of backgrounds to join the lab. The Rao Lab is a member of the Molecular & Cellular Pathology section of the The Program in Biomedical Sciences (PIBS) Ph.D. graduate training program at the University of Michigan, and is looking to recruit motivated and energetic graduate and medical scientist training program (MSTP) students. Graduate and MD/PhD students, and ophthalmology residents and fellows looking to join us should email to set up a time to chat. Post-doctoral candidates should include 3 letters of reference and a brief, 1 page statement summarizing their research interests and goals. If you're interested in joining our team, please send your CV to Rajesh. Contact us.