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Calvin Student's Work Gets to Harvard
October 13, 2005

The work of a Calvin student was part of a recent lecture at Harvard.

HoffmanHolly Hoffman is a senior at Calvin College in Grand Rapids and majoring in biochemistry as a pre-optometry student.

The Alma, Michigan, native is doing research at Calvin with John Ubels, a professor of biology who is an expert on dry eye disease.

Recently Hoffman took pictures using Calvin's new fluorescence microscope that revealed the CIC3 chloride channel in a section of lacrimal gland, the gland which produces the tears that continually bathe the surface of the human eye.

It was a significant discovery.

"Although it has been demonstrated in other organs," Ubels says of the chloride channel, "it has never before been shown to be present in the lacrimal gland."

Ubels then made Hoffman's image part of a talk in late September at the Ophthalmology Department of the Harvard Medical School.

The sophisticated fluorescence microscope, which allows Calvin's biology faculty and students to view fluorescently labeled structures in cells and tissues, is part of a Zeiss ApoTome Imaging System that is computer-controlled and interfaced with a system that enables researchers to collect optical sections and assemble 3-D reconstructions of imaged specimens.

The imaging system was purchased this year with a $174,298 Major Research Instrumentation Grant from the National Science Foundation.

"Until we got this microscope," Ubels says, "we only were able to do this kind of work at the Van Andel Research Institute (VARI). Now we can do it here at Calvin."

Hoffman appreciates the opportunity to use state-of-the-art science equipment at Calvin.

"It's nice," she says, "that we can have that hands-on experience with it."

Hoffman, who has wanted to pursue optometry since she was very young, says she learned a lot in the recent research process.

"I read a lot of literature on dry eye syndrome," she says with a smile.

Adds Ubels: "I like to give the pre-optometry students experience in my lab. It helps them when they apply to optometry schools since these schools are very pleased to accept students who know a lot about the eye. It's something unique that we can offer at Calvin."

The work the pair is doing on dry eye disease is connected to the most common current treatment for the disease: artificial tears, technically known as "lubricant eye drops." The pair is working on a modification of a product produced by the ophthalmic drug company Alcon Laboratories that will be marketed this fall. Professor and student have also co-authored papers on their research.

Because dry eye syndrome is characterized by inadequate production of tears, Ubels and Hoffman were using the college's fluorescence microscope to scrutinize duct cells in the lacrimal gland. When dry eye syndrome is caused by malfunctioning lacrimal glands Ubels says it may be because the duct cells aren't functioning properly. The discovery of the CIC3 chloride channel helps researchers such as Ubels and Hoffman understand the control of tear composition.

"What we're looking at now," he says, "is how the ducts function normally so that we can understand how they might be affected by disease."

~written by media relations staff writer Myrna Anderson