Steven J. Fliesler, PhD.

Research Director Steven J. Fliesler, PhD, helps coordinate faculty and resident projects supported by a grant from Research to Prevent Blindness.

Grant for Ophthalmology Research Totals $1M Over 9 Years

Published February 3, 2015 This content is archived.

story by alexandra edelblute

For the ninth year, the Department of Ophthalmology has received an unrestricted grant from Research to Prevent Blindness to support research on visual processes and disease.

“I look forward to the day when these research results will be translated into clinical therapies and cures that will improve or restore vision for those with visual disabilities and prevent vision loss. ”
Steven J. Fliesler, PhD
Meyer H. Riwchun Endowed Chair Professor of Ophthalmology, vice-chair for research

This year’s $115,000 grant brings the total awarded to $1,015,000.

Supporting Basic, Translational, Clinical Research

The grant primarily supports laboratory-based, translational and clinical research, including new projects and extensions of current projects.

In 2014, University at Buffalo ophthalmology researchers supported by these funds made several discoveries, resulting in 17 publications in peer-reviewed journals, including PloS One, Developmental Neurobiology, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Journal of Pathology.

As in previous years, James D. Reynolds, MD, professor and chair of the department, is the grant’s principal investigator.

Gaining Insight Into Unfolded Protein Response

The grant supported studies on the role of the unfolded protein response (UPR) and endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress in retinal degenerations. 

Sarah X. Zhang, MD, associate professor of ophthalmology and biochemistry, led research suggesting that modulation of the UPR and ER stress machinery offers potential new therapeutic targets for preventing or minimizing retinal degenerative diseases. 

The paper, “Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress and the Unfolded Protein Responses in Retinal Degeneration,” was published in Experimental Eye Research.

Other UPR-related studies led by Zhang were published in the Journal of Ophthalmic and Vision Research, the Journal of Diabetes Research and Antioxidants and Redox Signaling.

Understanding Corneal Endothelial Ion Transport

Sangita P. Patel, MD, PhD, assistant professor of ophthalmology, led research examining differences in the effects of carbonic anhydrase (CA) inhibitors on endothelial ion transport in bovine versus human corneas ex vivo. 

The researchers found that CA inhibitors do not produce corneal swelling in humans, suggesting alternative corneal endothelial ion transport mechanisms may exist. 

The paper, “Carbonic Anhydrase Inhibitors in Corneal Endothelial Transport,” was published in Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science.

Expanding Knowledge of Retinal Diseases

Xiuqian Mu, MD, PhD, and colleagues examined the mechanisms by which retinal progenitor cells (RPCs) are directed by gene transcription factors to differentiate into retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) during development.

The grant also helped fund research revealing that two transcription factors regulate the formation of multiple early-stage neurons in the retina during embryonic development.

Mu is an assistant professor of ophthalmology and biochemistry.

Using Smartphone App to Detect Vision Problems

The grant also supported research that successfully used a smartphone app to image the back of the eye, or fundus, in newborns and infants — patients too young to hold a position for conventional fundus cameras.

The iExaminer adapter allowed the UB researchers to instantly take photos and videos of the fundus by combining iPhone technology with the portable PanOptic ophthalmoscope.

Jiaxi Ding, MD, a resident trainee in the Department of Ophthalmology and UB’s Ross Eye Institute, led the study.

Grant Supports Lecture Series, Travel Costs

In addition, the grant supports the academic mission of the department and the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences by underwriting, in part, two annual UB lecture series featuring prominent visiting scientific scholars: Distinguished Lectures in Vision Science and Pioneers in Neuroscience.

Some funds also enable ophthalmology residents and faculty members to attend national and international biomedical and scientific conferences to present their research.

Goal is to Translate Results Into Therapies, Cures

“I’m extremely excited about the research coming out of the department and the Vision Research Center housed at the Buffalo VA Medical Center, and I’m very proud of our faculty who are generating these discoveries,” says Steven J. Fliesler, PhD, Meyer H. Riwchun Endowed Chair Professor of Ophthalmology, vice-chair for research and professor of biochemistry.

“I look forward to the day when these research results will be translated into clinical therapies and cures that will improve or restore vision for those with visual disabilities, and prevent vision loss for those who otherwise might suffer from progressive blinding disorders.”

Fliesler is also a research health scientist with the VA Western New York Healthcare System and director of its vision research center.