October 3, 2011

Critical Research Grants Support the Fight Against Blindness

The Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary, UIC Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences is known for its cutting-edge research into the cause and cure of serious eye diseases. In recognition of its important work, the Illinois Society for the Prevention of Blindness (ISPB) has awarded five UIC doctors research seed grants to assist with their ongoing investigations. Learn about the doctors’ individual projects, and how they hope to impact the future of eye and vision health.

ISPB Grants Awarded to Five UIC Doctors Critical Research Grants Support the Fight Against BlindnessDr. Jennifer Hu received $4,000 from ISPB for her investigation into the effect of hemodialysis on intraocular pressure, or fluid pressure inside the eye. Dr. Hu plans to test intraocular pressure before, during and after the hemodialysis sessions of both patients with normal eyes and those with possible glaucoma tendencies. Dr. Hu’s goal is to help identify risk factors such as glaucoma during hemodialysis treatment, and to raise awareness of the possible need for pre- or intra-dialysis intervention and closer follow-up of these vulnerable patients. Dr. Hu also hopes to assess significant changes in ocular perfusion pressure (ocular blood flow) during the process of hemodialysis to help identify any increased risk of vision loss.

Dr. Joshua Hou was the recipient of a $3,200 ISPB grant for his research into ptosis, or drooping eyelid. Ptosis is a common cause of significant vision impairment in seniors. Although the current treatment is surgery, it is well documented that a reversal of mild to moderate ptosis may be possible with medicated eye drops. In the future, such medications may prevent the need for surgery. Dr. Hou’s study focuses on the receptors in the upper eyelid muscle (which are responsible for the elevation of the eyelid after use of the medicated eye drops) in order to determine if patient-to-patient variation exists for those receptors. In turn, this would help clarify why there are differences in eyelid response after application of the eye drops.

Dr. Erica Oltra received $2,600 for her study of retinal thinning in sickle cell patients. There is a range of neurological complications associated with sickle cell disease, including gaps in mental functions and stroke. Recent UIC studies using high-resolution optic coherence tomography (OCT) in sickle cell patients at various stages of the disease have found evidence of inner retinal thinning.  Dr. Oltra hypothesizes that sickle cell patients with retinal thinning will also have lower cognitive function scores, indicating microvascular cerebral disease. The results of this study could have important implications for the medical management of sickle cell disease. If retinal thickness is shown to correlate with poor neuro-cognitive function, then retinal thinning may possibly be used as a surrogate for silent strokes, resulting in the need for more aggressive management, such as hydroxyurea therapy and blood transfusions.

Dr. Renu Jivrajka was awarded $2,600 for her project to determine if microperimetry (a technique for accurately testing macular sensitivity) can be useful in detecting retinal problems in patients taking the drug plaquenil. The results can also be correlated to findings on the multifocal electroretinogram (ERG), which is known to detect subtle changes in the early stages of retinal toxicity. Dr. Jivrajka’s study will include 20 patients with plaquenil toxicity and 20 patients without clinical evidence of plaquenil toxicity as determined by abnormal and normal findings on Humphrey 10-2 visual fields, respectively.

Dr. Mark Krakauer was the recipient of a $2,145 seed grant to research surgery to elevate a droopy eyelid, which is one of the most common eyelid surgeries. A droopy eyelid can be the consequence of aging, trauma and stroke, or it may be present from birth. One of the most common procedures to elevate a droopy eyelid is to excise part of one of the muscles that elevates the eyelid. The amount of muscle to be excised is determined by pre-operative measurements of the eyelid, which are done by hand and can vary depending on who is taking the measurement.  Dr. Krakauer would like to improve the accuracy of the measurements by instead taking a high-resolution photograph of the patient. More precise measurements would help make the surgical outcome more predictable, because doctors would have a better indication of how much muscle is needed to excise. In addition, post-operative photographs of the patient would show the amount of muscle excised in relation to the degree that the eyelid was raised. These results could potentially help other surgeons performing the procedure, by giving them data on which to base their own operations.

by Margaret Doyle

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