Awards & Achievements
- In 2017, Dr. Lass received the Castroviejo Award from the Cornea Society.
- Dr. Rhee was recognized by The Ophthalmologist as one of the 100 most influential people in Ophthalmology in 2016.
- Dr. Szczotka-Flynn was recognized as one of the “30 Most Influential in Contact Lenses” contributors in the world in 2016 as nominated by her peers for the period 1986-2016.
- In 2013, Dr. Szczotka-Flynn received the Donald Korb Award from the American Optometric Association.
- Dr. Lass received the Paton Award from the Eye Bank Association of America in 2012.
Major Research Achievements in the Last Five Years
Dr. Jonathan Lass along with Dr. Loretta Szczotka-Flynn and Professor Beth Ann Benetz have advanced eye banking and keratoplasty care worldwide by expanding the donor pool in regards to preservation time, as well as revealing the key factors for graft success and endothelial cell loss for Descemet stripping automated endothelial keratoplasty (DSAEK)as a result of 12 publications. With Dr. Iyengar, 3 new genes have been identified that may play a role in FECD pathogenesis.
Dr. Paul Park renewed his R01 in 2017, which supports his main research program interrogating the structure and function of rhodopsin. His research has revealed the adaptations of photoreceptor cells to environment lighting changes and changes occurring in diseased states. Dr. Park has developed a novel method to probe the aggregation properties of these misfolding mutants, which has allowed him to discover that there is specificity in aggregation, which may be a potential therapeutic target, and that some proposed therapies involving retinoid-based chaperones are predicted to be ineffective or even detrimental. Dr. Park has initiated pilot studies to investigate a potential role for an orphan receptor in retinal degenerative diseases.
Dr. Irina Pikuleva’s research on cholesterol elimination from the brain has led to a novel finding, and she is now the PI on a clinical trial supported by the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Association, which tests two pediatric doses of efavirenz, an anti-HIV drug, in patients with Alzheimer’s disease in collaboration with the CWRU Department of Neurology and Massachusetts General Hospital. Remarkably efavirenz was also found to ameliorate the manifestations of both dry and wet age-related macular degeneration in mice with spontaneous mutations (still need to be identified) leading to these manifestations. Accordingly, Dr. Pikuleva has started experiments that are necessary for funding a similar trial of efavirenz in patients with AMD with retina colleagues in the Department.
In the past 5 years, Dr. Douglas Rhee’s team elucidated the previously unrecognized role of the matricellular protein SPARC as an important regulator of IOP in normal physiology as well as demonstrating SPARC to potentially be the critical step in the pathophysiology of TGFb2-induced ocular hypertension in experimental models.
Dr. Loretta Szczotka-Flynn is an innovator in contact lens infection and inflammation and as such was involved in every 30-day continuous wear pivotal clinical trial for silicone hydrogel and RGP lenses that are on the US market today. She continues to be funded by NIH and industryto determine risk factors for contact lens driven inflammation and infection and has even expanded into the impact and influence of ocular surface microbiome with contact lens wear.
Our investigators have also led foundation (American Glaucoma Society) and industry funded translational research (Rhee, Toris, Zhang) defining the physiologic mechanisms of action of the Trabectome surgical procedure, iStent, iStent inject, and Hydrus surgical implants for glaucoma.
Our Eye Image Analysis Reading Centers contributed to the findings of the NEI-funded CPTS regarding factors impacting endothelial cell loss following DSAEK as well as collaborating with industry on determining safety and efficacy of new drugs, devices, and surgical procedures by means of reproducible image analysis of anterior segment and retinal images, e.g. 2 yr (Cornea 38:325-31, 2019) and 5 yr (Am J Ophthalmol 208:211-18, 2019) Cypass endothelial cell loss results and lack of effect of intravitreal aflibercept on the endothelium PMID 29384810 (Benetz, Lass).
Dr. Patricia Taylor established her lab and an independent research program from her former mentor, Dr. Eric Pearlman. Dr. Taylor’s research focuses on important but not well-understood IL-17A dependent retinal vascular impairment in the diabetic retina. She just published two diabetic retinopathy articles in peer-reviewed journals as the corresponding author. Further, she has gained independent funding through an NIH-VA-CDA award.