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Campus Locations

Physical Address:
Bruce M. Pitman Center
875 Perimeter Drive MS 4264
Moscow, ID 83844-4264
info@uidaho.edu
www.uidaho.edu

Phone: 208-885-6111

Fax: 208-885-9119

Directions

Physical Address:
322 E. Front Street
Boise, ID 83702
boise@uidaho.edu
www.uidaho.edu/boise

Phone: 208-334-2999

Fax: 208-364-4035

Directions

Physical Address:
1031 N. Academic Way, 
Suite 242
Coeur d'Alene, ID 83814
cdactr@uidaho.edu
www.uidaho.edu/cda

Phone: 208-667-2588

Fax: 208-664-1272

Directions

Physical Address:
1776 Science Center Drive, Suite 306
Idaho Falls, ID 83402
ui-if@uidaho.edu
uidaho.edu/idaho-falls

Phone: 208-757-5450

Fax: 208-757-5494

Directions

Studying Night Blindness

Molecular Biology Student Studies Human Eye Disease in Mice


During her sophomore year, Ren Dimico worked alongside Associate Professor Peter Fuerst, mapping cell densities in mouse brains for one of the Department of Biological Sciences lab’s major projects, ‘The Brain Project.’

According to the 21-year-old senior from Spokane, Washington, the researchers used mice as a model organism to track how the brain is organized with mutations that are known to cause diseases in humans. By comparing development and aging of the retina in mice, the scientists hope to understand diseases in people.

If I didn’t have this direct research experience, I don’t think I would have realized how much I still wanted to be able to have patient interaction.
Ren Dimico
MOLECULAR BIOLOGY STUDENT

The gene Dimico studies, called Down syndrome cell adhesiom molecule like-1, or Dscaml1, plays a critical role in the formation of dendrites, which are branches of a nerve cell important for neuron-to-neuron communication.

Dendrites branch from the neurons they’re attached to like a sea of cobwebs, receiving communications from neighboring neurons and sending the impulse down the line.

The gene Dscaml1 helps prevent the dendrites from becoming tangled. This tangling then results in the breakdown of the visual pathway, which can lead to the development of night blindness.

Previous work in the College of Science lab found mice with a mutation in the Dscaml1 gene had an increased number of unsuccessful connections of the neurons, Dimico said.

“We want to know if night blindness in humans occurs because development is abnormal or if the retinal cells degenerate over time,” she said.

The nature of this question requires Dimico to analyze retinas collected from mice at different ages. Dimico images the neurons and measures how many of them are properly connected, comparing normal mice and mice with a mutation in the Dscaml1 gene.

“Our hope is that by understanding how the retina develops and how this goes wrong in a disease model, we can help people with disease,” she said.

The research is important because many people develop diseases that can cause blindness as they age. For example, macular degeneration occurs in more than 14% of white Americans — the race most likely to develop the disease — in their 80s, according to the National Eye Institute.

Purple cells on bottom connect to blue cells on top through green and red synapses.
Retinal neurons in purple make red and green synapses with blue cells used in night vision.

After working in a research lab, Dimico said she has discovered that there’s less human interaction than she was hoping for.

“I do love the collaboration and teamwork aspect that comes with working in a lab and with other researchers, but I also have a passion and desire to work more directly with people,” she said.

This led Dimico to pursue a career in which she can do clinical and research work. She is a certified nursing assistant and is becoming an emergency medical technician so she can volunteer for the Moscow Volunteer Fire Department. She hopes to earn an M.D./Ph.D.

“If I didn’t have this direct research experience, I don’t think I would have realized how much I still wanted to be able to have patient interaction and see the end result of what the research is actually going to do,” she said.


Article and photos by Braden Farrar, a junior from Coeur d’Alene, who is studying biological engineering.

Ren Dimico is an OUR Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship and Travel Grant recipient.

This project was funded by the National Institutes of Health award R21EY028297. The total project funding is $420,976, of which 100% is the federal share. This project was funded by the National Science Foundation award 1757826. The total project funding is $363,930, of which 100% is the federal share.

Published in March 2020.

Ren Dimico stands against a green chalkboard with a drawing of an eye cell.
Ren Dimico hopes to earn an M.D./Ph.D. so she can do research and work with patients in the future.

Campus Locations

Physical Address:
Bruce M. Pitman Center
875 Perimeter Drive MS 4264
Moscow, ID 83844-4264
info@uidaho.edu
www.uidaho.edu

Phone: 208-885-6111

Fax: 208-885-9119

Directions

Physical Address:
322 E. Front Street
Boise, ID 83702
boise@uidaho.edu
www.uidaho.edu/boise

Phone: 208-334-2999

Fax: 208-364-4035

Directions

Physical Address:
1031 N. Academic Way, 
Suite 242
Coeur d'Alene, ID 83814
cdactr@uidaho.edu
www.uidaho.edu/cda

Phone: 208-667-2588

Fax: 208-664-1272

Directions

Physical Address:
1776 Science Center Drive, Suite 306
Idaho Falls, ID 83402
ui-if@uidaho.edu
uidaho.edu/idaho-falls

Phone: 208-757-5450

Fax: 208-757-5494

Directions