Meet a Specialist: Nazlee Zebardast, M.D.

Headshot of Dr. Zebardast NazleeDr. Nazlee Zebardast is passionate about global health. It combines her love of travel with her desire to save vision in patients with glaucoma, a group of eye diseases that damages the optic nerve. As a glaucoma specialist at Mass. Eye and Ear, she believes it’s an “unparalleled privilege to preserve patients’ sight and often, as a result, their livelihood.”

Promoting Awareness of Risk Factors

Worldwide, about 60 million people have glaucoma, but many are unaware that they have the vision-robbing disease. That’s why knowing your glaucoma risk factors, such as a family history of glaucoma, is critical, says Dr. Zebardast.

Other risk factors include:

  • Being older than 60 years
  • Being very nearsighted or farsighted
  • Being of African, Hispanic, or Asian descent
  • Having diabetes
  • Using corticosteroids, especially long term
  • Having a history of eye injuries or multiple eye surgeries for chronic eye conditions

Dr. Zebardast remembers one patient who had very advanced angle-closure glaucoma, also known as narrow-angle glaucoma. This form of glaucoma happens when the drainage pathway of the eye is blocked as a result of eye anatomy and can sometimes cause a rapid increase in eye pressure. Dr. Zebardast performed trabeculectomy surgery in both of the patient's eyes to save her vision.

“Because we talked about the role of family history in glaucoma, the patient encouraged her siblings to get eye exams. As it turns out, her brother unknowingly had advanced glaucoma. Luckily, I was able to also help him before he lost much of his vision,” says Dr. Zebardast.

Research Aims to Optimize Glaucoma Diagnosis and Treatment

Although a new wave of innovations have improved the diagnosis and management of glaucoma, Dr. Zebardast says, “there is considerable work to be done to improve our diagnostic tools, screening strategies, therapies, and surgical techniques.”

Her research focuses on epidemiology and global health. In particular, she has studied angle-closure glaucoma risk factors with colleagues at Aravind Eye Institute in India. “Among other findings, we found that siblings of individuals with known angle-closure glaucoma have a greater than one in three risk of having the disease. This underscores the importance of screening individuals with family history, as vision loss can often be slowed or stopped if the disease is diagnosed and treated early."

In the future, Dr. Zebardast plans to use imaging tools, in particular swept source optical coherence tomography, to better understand how and why angle-closure glaucoma progresses. She also plans to use big data and machine learning methodologies to detect glaucoma earlier and further understand its progression.

“I hope that this work will not only optimize glaucoma diagnosis but will also help establish care in under-resourced regions, thereby decreasing the global burden of this disease,” she says.

Mentoring Future Ophthalmologists

In addition to seeing patients and conducting research, Dr. Zebardast is a Harvard Ophthalmology faculty member. A generous mentor to medical students, residents, and fellows, she loves interacting with future ophthalmologists.

“I truly enjoy working with trainees on research projects and in the clinic and operating room. Some of my best experiences have been guiding trainees through clinical decision-making and laser and surgical procedures,” she says.

Learn more about Dr. Zebardast

Request an appointment