Biology Professor Wins NIH Grant To Continue Research

Dr. Margaret MacNeil, an associate professor in the Department of Biology at York College, has received a four-year continuation of her grant, “The Shape and Circuitry of Neurons in the Retina," from the National Institute of Health (NIH), for nearly half a million dollars.

“This work began about 10 years ago, to understand the diversity of neurons in the retina,” said Dr. MacNeil whose postdoctoral work focused on identifying amacrine and ganglion cell types. “At York I was funded to identify the bipolar cells.  That project was completed in 2004 and led to the next grant which aims to elucidate some of the circuits formed among amacrine, bipolar and ganglion cells.”

According to MacNeil, one result of this work was the identification of the blue cone pathway in the rabbit retina that was done in collaboration with York student, Paulette Gaul.

“In the current project, we are looking to see how the loss of ganglion cells early in development impacts the survival of amacrine and bipolar cell types,” said MacNeil.

      The study, according to Professor MacNeil, seeks to determine whether damage to visual cortex and subsequent loss of retinal ganglion cells from the retina induce reorganization of the inner retina.
“This research is important, said MacNeil. “Because it may reveal the retinal circuits that are most affected, following damage to visual cortex; as well as ones that could be exploited in people suffering from visual deficits due to brain trauma or neurodegenerative disease.”

MacNeil who specializes in the neuroanatomy of the visual system and Neurobiology of the retina, earned a PhD from Boston University School of Medicine; and completed post-doctoral studies at Harvard University/Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

         Hired at York in the fall of 2000, she also became a member of the (CUNY) Graduate Faculty in 2005 where she serves on the PhD advisory committee for the Neuroscience sub-program in Biology.

At York, the neuroscientist has seen a number of her students earn Salk Scholarships into medical school -- including Sheryl Purrier (’06), who continued her research under MacNeil’s guidance, producing the award-winning paper, "The Organization for the Inner Nuclear Layer of the Cat Retina."

Fiona Smith, ’05, recently graduated from medical school at Penn State Medical School and is doing a residency in Hawaii, and Methuel Gordon, a MacNeil mentee and Salk runner up in 2004, has also graduated from Penn State Medical School and completing his residency in Southern California.
According to Dr. Panayiotis Meleties, Dean for the Mathematics and Sciences Division and a professor of Chemistry at York, the significance of MacNeil’s study cannot be over-stated.

“Dr. MacNeil’s research interests are in the forefront of the field,” said Dean Meleties. “The support from the National Institutes of Health is at the same time an appreciation and recognition of her scientific prowess and critical to continue her work. Dr. MacNeil with her work also mentors students into this exciting research, students well recognized for their work as well, such as the last Salk winner, Ms. Purrier.”

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