Funding will support study of fibrosis and inflammation following pediatric eye surgery

Iris Kassem, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, has received a $60,000 career-starter research grant for her study of Fibrin Membrane Formation and Inflammation after Pediatric Ocular Surgery from the Knights Templar Eye Foundation.

Dr. Iris Kassem is presented with a $60,000 check from the Knights of Templar Eye Foundation to support her research“A child’s eyes are not simply a smaller version of an adult’s eyes,” notes Dr. Kassem. “There are fundamental differences in the healing and structure of the pediatric eye, as well as the development of a child’s vision, which make them unique.”

During her residency and fellowship, Dr. Kassem noticed that pediatric patients with intraocular surgery, particularly for cataracts, glaucoma or ocular trauma, often had a difficult postoperative course due to inflammation and fibrosis. This was in striking contrast to adult patients, who did relatively well even if they had not adhered to their postoperative medication regimen. Many of these children had amblyopia (commonly known as “lazy eye”), which was more challenging to treat because of the decreased clarity of the visual axis.

“One of the difficulties with pediatric eye surgery is postoperative inflammation and fibrosis. This can lead a surgeon to decide to delay or not perform surgery that could possibly improve a child’s vision,” says Dr. Kassem. “At other times, a flawless surgery and a perfect medication regimen after surgery might have a devastating visual outcome because of inflammation and scarring, leaving the child with worse vision than before surgery.”

Dr. Kassem notes that without an understanding of the basic science behind this robust response in children, there will not be much true progress in prevention or treatment. With collaborators Dr. Felix Chau, a member of the Department’s Retina Service who specializes in pediatric retina, Dr. Yannek Leiderman, also a member of the Retina Service, and Dr. Aisha Traish, a member of the Cornea Service who specializes in pediatric cornea, Dr. Kassem believes that the information gained from the study will result in improved patient care and surgical outcomes for children.

The study will use an animal model to evaluate different therapies and medications used to prevent and treat ocular inflammation and scarring that are currently used in medical practice. However, these medications have not been systematically evaluated as potential therapy for use in pediatric ocular surgery.

Dr. Kassem is very grateful for the support of her project by the Knights Templar Eye Foundation.

“By investigating these therapies, we may be able to develop several promising ways to improve the postoperative course of our pediatric eye disease patients that can lead them to better surgical outcomes and a future with improved vision,” says Dr. Kassem.

The Knights Templar Eye Foundation is a leading masonic charity supporting research that can help launch the careers of clinical or basic researchers committed to the prevention and cure of potentially blinding diseases in infants and children.  Dr. Kassem sees patients in the Pediatric Ophthalmology & Adult Strabismus Service.

Dr. Kassem’s mentors for the project are Luisa DiPietro, DDS, PhD, Director of the Center for Wound Healing and Tissue Regeneration, and Dimitri Azar, MD, MBA, Dean of UIC’s College of Medicine.   She also is a scholar in the Department’s Independent Clinical Scientist Development Program, funded by a K12 training grant from the National Eye Institute.

by Margaret Doyle