Translating Research Into Patient Care

Research is a major component of the Department of Ophthalmology and it encompasses both the basic and clinical sciences. Research laboratories and support facilities span the entire second floor of the Mason Eye Institute with additional space located across the street at the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans' Hospital. Our multidisciplinary approach leads to advances in medical science and clinical treatments. Research interests within the department are diverse and cover a wide range of ophthalmologic problems.

Basic Science Research

The Neurodegenerative Diseases Research Laboratory (NDRL) is dedicated to discovering the causes of and developing treatments for diseases that involve degenerative changes of the nervous system, including the retina, brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. The laboratory is directed by Martin Katz, PhD, and focuses on determining the mechanisms underlying age-related retinal degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in the United States.

Rick Fraunfelder, MD, and Xu Han, MD were recently awarded a $25,000 Coulter Grant to support their research on corneal tissue cryopreservation.

Retina is a metabolically active tissue that senses light. Dysregulation of metabolism results in retinal cell dysfunction and miscommunication, subsequent cell death and vision loss. Hu Huang, PhD, is investigating retinal cell metabolism and communication, as well as their abnormalities in retinal diseases such as diabetic retinopathy. Dr. Huang is also investigating chemokine control of immune cell migration to the outer retina (photoreceptor and retinal pigment epithelium) that is relevant to pathological conditions such as age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.

The cornea is an ideal candidate for gene therapy due to its immune-privilege status, accessibility and easy visual monitoring. Corneal haze, scarring and neovascularization are among the leading causes of vision impairment in the world and affect approximately 1.5 million Americans every year. Abnormal wound healing due to corneal injury or infection has been shown to play a critical role in causing these and other corneal disorders and diseases. The research in the laboratory of Rajiv Mohan, PhD, is primarily focused one developing tissue-targeted selective gene therapy approaches for preventing/treating corneal disorders, diseases and dystrophies, and studying the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in corneal wound healing.

It has been hypothesized that chaperone-like activity of crystallin is responsible for maintaining lens clarity and transparency in vivo. The truncation of the alpha crystallin decreases its chaperone-like activity. Krishna Sharma, PhD is investigating the role of site specific lens proteases and peptide hydrolases in truncation and alteration of alpha crystallin chaperone activity.

Lixing Reneker, PhD, is currently studying molecular mechanisms of eye development, specifically signal transduction pathways in lens development and anterior segment development.

Clinical Research

Dean Hainsworth, MD is involved in several research projects. The AREDS 2 trial is an NIH sponsored clinical trial to determine whether Lutein/Zeaxanthin or Fish Oil would further decreased the risk of choroidal neovascularization in patients with AMD. The DCCT/EDIC is a long term NIH sponsored trial following patients with type 1 diabetes to further determine benefits of careful glucose control including examining the development of retinopathy. The DEGAS is a Pfizer sponsored trial to determine whether injecting a study drug (siRNA to inhibit expression of hypoxia inducible gene) improves diabetic macular edema. Dr. Hainsworth is also exploring the use of gold nanoparticles as a platform to deliver anti-angiogenic drugs to specific targets in the eye as a potential treatment for ocular neovascularization.