Meet a Specialist: Jason Comander, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Comander

Retina expert Dr. Jason Comander is dedicated to the treatment and study of retinal disease. A member of both the Retina and Electroretinography (ERG) Services at Mass. Eye and Ear, Dr. Comander has specialized expertise in inherited forms of retinal degeneration, including retinitis pigmentosa (RP), juvenile macular degeneration (Stargardt disease), and Leber congenital amaurosis. He also specializes in treating patients with common retinal conditions, such as age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, retinal detachments, epiretinal membranes, and macular holes, as well as inherited retinal disorders.

“Retinitis pigmentosa is a group of inherited retinal degenerations that progressively damage the light-sensing photoreceptors in the retina and affects over one million people worldwide,” Dr. Comander explains. “Patients typically experience decreased night vision first, and then decreased side and central vision. Some forms of RP can lead to blindness.”

There are many types of RP, and its severity and progression varies widely among patients. Dr. Comander can evaluate patients using specialized ERG testing methods.

“ERG testing enables us to detect photoreceptor dysfunction years in advance of when vision deteriorates, and the type of testing available in our department can better estimate how quickly changes in peripheral vision will progress,” he explains. “This can be good news for patients, who often erroneously believe that an RP diagnosis means rapid and complete vision loss.” While vision loss is currently irreversible in RP, treatment regimens developed at Mass. Eye and Ear may slow the course of the disease in some patients and postpone blindness for up to 20 years.

One teenaged patient, recently diagnosed with RP, came to Mass. Eye and Ear with his mother believing that he would be blind by the age of 30. Fortunately, Dr. Comander was able to give him a very different prognosis. “What you read on the Internet doesn’t apply to you,” he told the boy and his mom. “Our tests show that you have a mild case, and you’re going to see for a very long time. All you need to do is focus on school, take those vitamins I told you about, and be a normal kid.”

Since the early 1990s, researchers at Mass. Eye and Ear have identified more than 20 genes associated with retinitis pigmentosa, and Dr. Comander’s laboratory research is continuing in this tradition. In collaboration with Dr. Eric Pierce, who directs Mass. Eye and Ear’s Ocular Genomics Institute, Dr. Comander is researching diagnostics and treatments for retinitis pigmentosa. Some of his studies aim to improve genetic diagnosis of RP, while others are aimed toward therapy. He has studied the genetic basis of distinct forms of retinitis pigmentosa, has investigated methods to better test which DNA mutations cause disease, and has tested techniques for retinal gene therapy in primates. While still experimental, one type of gene therapy relies on delivering a bio-engineered gene to the retina using a virus for delivery.

The intersection of bio-engineering and ophthalmology has long interested Dr. Comander. When he was 16, he landed a summer job at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami. At the age of 17, he made his first presentation at a national ophthalmology research conference. By the time he completed his undergraduate degree at Harvard University, Dr. Comander had become a summer research assistant at the Institute, participating in ophthalmology studies there. He later earned both his MD and PhD at Harvard Medical School, where he also completed his ophthalmology residency. Following that, he completed a vitreoretinal surgery fellowship at Mass. Eye and Ear and acquired additional training in inherited retinal degenerations and electroretinography.

In addition to seeing patients and working in the laboratory, Dr. Comander teaches residents and fellows and also lectures on color vision. He welcomes the opportunity to help advance vision science at Mass. Eye and Ear. “It’s very meaningful to be able to help a patient whose vision is seriously threatened,” he says, “and even better that I can contribute to the development of new therapies that, one day, may prevent vision loss from these disorders.”

Contact Dr. Comander at 617-573-3871 (Mass. Eye and Ear main campus), 781-662-5520 (Mass. Eye and Ear Retina Consultants in Stoneham), or 617-573-3621 (Electroretinography Service).

View Dr. Comander’s online profile

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