Casey Wong

Supervisor: Jennifer Hocking

Project: Using fish to understand a congenital eye disease


Edmonton, AB

Degree program:

Bachelor of Science in Immunology & Infection Honors

Why did you choose this program?

I applied for Immunology and Infection knowing nothing about myself, research or career opportunities except that I loved sciences. In my first year, I doubted my program choice because I didn't learn anything specific to immunology. However, research experience with the Hocking Lab and a course—Infection and Immunity 200 (IMIN 200)—affirmed my decision in my program choice. I was astonished by the curiosity and persistence that drives students and professors to pursue answers. I was encouraged to question and consider thousands of ways to problem solve. There is nothing more exciting than receiving results from thoroughly thought-out work and experiments. These experiences have invoked me to rethink my future goals and commit to pursuing my program choice.

What did you get to work on throughout your studentship?

During May and June we read a lot of articles, which allowed me to better understand the mechanisms of the channels and ask questions to address the many unknowns of the protein. On top of that, we did weekly journal clubs where we presented the papers we read to lab members. This has built my presentation and reading skills immensely. I have learnt to communicate scientifically and present information logically and simply. I was also able to build on my technical skills such as confocal imaging, embedding, immunostaining, cryosectioning, etc. while working in the lab.

What's been the best part of your experience so far?

The best part of my experience has been reading the articles. We read a lot about the electrophysiology of rod and cone photoreceptors, channel gating mechanisms of Kv8.2, voltage-gated potassium channels, clinical cases of KCNV2 retinopathy and more. It is easy to dive right into the technicalities of research without in-depth knowledge about the subject matter. Not only did I gain knowledge while reading these articles, I also learned how to think critically about the authors' experiments and methods. This allowed me to better understand the mechanisms of the channels and ask questions to address the many unknowns of the protein.

What interested you in the summer studentship program?

I learned so much from conducting research. From techniques such as DNA electrophoresis and confocal imaging to experimental planning such as extracting and analyzing information from experiments and papers. I was encouraged to question and consider thousands of ways to problem solve.

How has your studentship helped you towards your career aspirations?

I aspire to go to graduate school in the field of immunology, virology or microbiology. The studentship allowed me to build on my research skills (technical skills, presentation and scientific communication skills, critical thinking and reading skills) and provided the necessary research experience for my applications for graduate school. On top of that, Dr. Hocking is a great mentor and researcher that has modelled a perfect example of a supervisor. Her encouragement, persistence and patience will always stick with me and drive me towards my career aspirations.

Lay abstract:

KCNV2 retinopathy—a very rare retinal disorder—is characterized by early childhood onset of severe vision loss. In particular, patients suffer from color blindness, loss of central vision and hypersensitivity to light. The disease is caused by mutations in a single gene, KCNV2, which encodes a potassium channel subunit. Without the gene, the light-detecting photoreceptor cells in the eye can no longer respond properly to light. However, the symptoms of the disease are unique and the underlying mechanisms are unclear.

One of the key questions is why cone photoreceptors, which mediate high-acuity colour vision, are significantly more vulnerable than rod photoreceptors, which mediate low-light vision. An understanding of the difference could provide avenues for preserving cone function. To learn more about KCNV2 retinopathy, and in the process gain insight into the fundamental biology of photoreceptors, the Hocking Lab has created zebrafish models of the disease. A zebrafish eye is very similar to a human eye, making it an excellent basis for research into ocular diseases. Zerbrafish have two versions of the KCNV2 gene—kcnv2a and kcnv2b—which may be advantageous because we have evidence to suggest that kcnv2a functions in rods, while kcnv2b functions in cones, allowing us to separate the roles for KCNV2 in each cell type.

In this project, we will 1) confirm the rod and cone-specific expression of kcnv2a and kcnv2b using custom-made antibodies, 2) conduct electroretinography on kcnv2a and kcnv2b mutant zebrafish to examine photoreceptor function, and 3) use histology to look at changes to the rod and cone cells in the mutant zebrafish. The eye is an accessible organ for localized treatment (e.g., gene therapy or drug delivery), increasing the importance of understanding the biology of ocular disease.