Meet a Specialist: David Wu, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Wu

As a youngster, Mass. Eye and Ear retina surgeon and researcher Dr. David Wu dreamed of doing brain research. Starting in high school, he began to spend time alongside laboratory researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School, where he was introduced to the retina.

“The retina is actually a part of the brain, and it’s the only part of the brain that you can see from the outside, simply by holding a lens up to a person’s eye,” he explains. “So it’s very interesting from a scientific perspective.”

Today, Dr. Wu is a member of Mass. Eye and Ear’s Retina Service, where he provides medical and surgical treatment for patients with vitreoretinal diseases. He sees patients both at Mass. Eye and Ear, Longwood, which is located at 800 Huntington Avenue in Boston, as well as the main 243 Charles Street campus. He specializes in care for patients with retinal detachments, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, vascular occlusions, epiretinal membranes, and macular holes.

A clinician scientist, Dr. Wu says it’s his patients who ultimately fuel his passionate focus on advancing treatments and cures for retinal disease and other blinding disorders.

“After spending many hours – and years – at the laboratory bench, I’ve come to realize that mice don’t talk to you. And, they certainly don’t tell you stories about their kids,” he says, with a smile. “When patients share their family news, it means a lot. I treasure my time with patients, and I want to be able to do as much as I can for them. That’s what drives my work forward in the lab.”

Dr. Wu completed an M.D., as well as a Ph.D. in Neuroscience, at the University of Michigan Medical School. He went on to complete a residency in Ophthalmology – and a fellowship in Medical Retina and Research – at the University of Michigan W.K. Kellogg Eye Center, and subsequently, a fellowship in Vitreoretinal Surgery at the Doheny Eye Institute of the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine.

Some of the retina patients that affected him the most during his Doheny fellowship were women with uncontrolled diabetes who had recently given birth. Having never properly managed their diabetes, they had normal vision at the start of their pregnancies, but lost their sight by the time they gave birth.

“We don’t yet understand why pregnancy stirs up diabetic retinopathy. But if you don’t control your blood sugar during pregnancy, diabetic retinopathy is greatly accelerated, which can lead to tremendous scarring and other retinal changes that result in blindness,” he explains. “As a parent myself, I was saddened that these women would never be able to see their children.”

In addition to his clinical work, Dr. Wu conducts research at Harvard Medical School on photoreceptor cells in the retina. Photoreceptors are the cell type in the retina that sense the light (or in other words, the ones that actually “see”) and their death is a common endpoint that leads to vision loss across many retinal diseases. His laboratory studies are aimed at understanding the molecular factors that trigger photoreceptor death. With this new information, he says, “we may find a way to intervene, to target specific molecular pathways, and rescue damaged photoreceptors.”

“Anything that can keep photoreceptors alive longer should, in theory, help across the whole spectrum of retinal diseases,” he adds.

A Harvard Medical School Instructor in Ophthalmology, Dr. Wu is an avid teacher and shares his vitreoretinal surgery expertise with medical students, ophthalmology residents, and retina fellows. “Their questioning forces me to keep my knowledge-base up to date, and find ways to explain concepts clearly,” he says. “I really enjoy the opportunity to train the next generation of ophthalmologists.”

Dr. Wu remains optimistic about finding better treatments and, one day, cures for retinal diseases. “The longer we can keep photoreceptor cells alive, the better,” he says. “Everyone wants to get to the cure. That’s what we all strive for. But until we get to that point, if we can preserve a person’s vision two more years, maybe five more years, that’s also a very important victory.”

Contact Dr. Wu’s office at 617-573-3288.

View Dr. Wu’s online bio for more information.

Request an appointment.