Dr. Teresa Duda, professor, and Dr. Ramashwar K. Sharma, distinguished professor, collaborated on a paper with Dr. Clint Makino from Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (MEEI). Published recently in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the study has garnered much general public press attention due to its link to baking soda. Dr. Duda was the lead author of the paper, which describes how bicarbonate (baking soda) alters how we see by modifying the visual signal generated by rod and cone photoreceptors that detect light. In the body, bicarbonate plays essential roles in buffering pH levels, aiding in digestion and neutralizing lactic acid produced during physical exertion. In some types of retinal diseases, a genetic defect causes cGMP in the rods and/or cones to rise to abnormally high levels.
Within rod and cone photoreceptors, a small soluble molecule called cGMP links photon absorption to the electrical activity of the photoreceptor. In the light, cGMP is destroyed and ion channels are closed. Bicarbonate opposes the effect of light, limits the size of the photon response and quickens its recovery. What results is a slightly lower sensitivity to light and an increased improvement in the ability to track moving objects. The results of the research of Dr. Duda, Dr. Sharma and colleagues indicate that controlling bicarbonate levels in the eye will slow the progress of—or may even prevent—eye diseases.