Mass. Eye and Ear vision researchers receive Research to Prevent Blindness grant awards 

April 20, 2017
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Suzanne Day
Media Relations Manager, Mass. Eye and Ear
617-573-3897

Boston, Mass. — Three researchers from Massachusetts Eye and Ear have recently received research funding support for 2017 from the Harvard Department of Ophthalmology's Unrestricted Grant from Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB), including Tobias Elze, Ph.D., Kevin Houston, O.D., M.Sc., and Jaya Rajaiya, Ph.D. The Unrestricted Grant supports faculty research efforts across the department and enables all faculty and their active research collaborators to be nominated for additional RPB funding. The grant is administered by Joan W. Miller, M.D., Harvard Ophthalmology department chair and Chief of Ophthalmology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Massachusetts General Hospital.

Dr. Elze, an investigator at Schepens Eye Research Institute of Mass. Eye and Ear and an Instructor in Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, will be using his grant from RPB to study the association between retinal structure and age-related impairments. He aims to develop methods of eye imaging to detect changes in retinal structure caused by diseases such as age-related macular degeneration or glaucoma at earlier stages than currently possible, ideally before the diseases result in visual impairments.

“To prevent unnecessary vision loss in patients with age-related eye diseases, we need fast, reliable, and patient-friendly tests capable of early detection—ideally, before visual symptoms manifest,” said Dr. Miller. “Retinal imaging is a test that can be performed in a few seconds, and Dr. Elze’s methods for early disease detection may greatly benefit patients.”

Dr. Houston, a vision rehabilitative specialist at Mass. Eye and Ear and director of the Vision Rehabilitation Service at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, also an Instructor in Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, will advance his research of eye lid paralysis through the “Boston Blink-etic Project.” His team has successfully treated patients using a non-surgical approach of embedding a magnet in biocompatible material and adhering it to the eye lid skin. He plans to continue to improve this technology in order to increase patient comfort and quality of life.

“Eyelid motility disorders affect millions of people in the United States,” said Dr. Miller. “This is a very promising technology, which has the potential to help reduce long-term complications, and also enhance patient comfort and quality of life. 

Dr. Rajaiya, an investigator at Mass. Eye and Ear and an Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, was awarded the Research to Prevent Blindness Special Scholars Award for her innovative work with viral eye disease. With this support from the RPB, Dr. Rajaiya will continue her research on the intracellular trafficking of viruses into cells, particularly on the specific pathways by which viruses gain entry into corneal cells.  She hopes to use that research to design specific therapies to better treat viral eye infections, including pink eye.

“Infectious eye disease is a global health problem, and microorganisms evolve at a rapid pace,” said Dr. Miller. “Dr. Rajaiya’s work is critical to understanding how viruses communicate with cells. This information will help researchers and clinicians develop new sight-saving treatments.”

About Research to Prevent Blindness
Since it was founded in 1960, Research to Prevent Blindness has channeled more than $345 million into eye research. As a result, RPB has been identified with nearly every major breakthrough in vision research in that time. For information on RPB’s grants program, listings of RPB institutional and individual grantees, and findings generated by these award, go to www.rpbusa.org.

About Massachusetts Eye and Ear
Mass. Eye and Ear clinicians and scientists are driven by a mission to find cures for blindness, deafness and diseases of the head and neck. Now united with Schepens Eye Research Institute, Mass. Eye and Ear is the world's largest vision and hearing research center, developing new treatments and cures through discovery and innovation. Mass. Eye and Ear is a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital and trains future medical leaders in ophthalmology and otolaryngology, through residency as well as clinical and research fellowships. Internationally acclaimed since its founding in 1824, Mass. Eye and Ear employs full-time, board-certified physicians who offer high-quality and affordable specialty care that ranges from the routine to the very complex. In the 2016–2017 “Best Hospitals Survey,” U.S. News & World Report ranked Mass. Eye and Ear #1 in the nation for ear, nose and throat care and #1 in New England for eye care. For more information about life-changing care and research, or to learn how you can help, please visit MassEyeAndEar.org.

About the Harvard Medical School Department of Ophthalmology
The Harvard Medical School (HMS) Department of Ophthalmology (eye.hms.harvard.edu) is one of the leading and largest academic departments of ophthalmology in the nation. More than 350 full-time faculty and trainees work at nine HMS affiliate institutions, including Massachusetts Eye and Ear, Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Joslin Diabetes Center/Beetham Eye Institute, Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System, VA Maine Healthcare System, and Cambridge Health Alliance. Formally established in 1871, the department has been built upon a strong and rich foundation in medical education, research, and clinical care. Through the years, faculty and alumni have profoundly influenced ophthalmic science, medicine, and literature—helping to transform the field of ophthalmology from a branch of surgery into an independent medical specialty at the forefront of science.