New endowed chair is looking for underlying causes of vision loss
“What gets me up every morning is that I’m interested in the discovery of new biomedical mechanisms and strategies that will ultimately provide physicians with new tools to treat chronic degenerative diseases,” said Peter Koulen, Ph.D., the new Felix and Carmen Sabates/Missouri Endowed Chair in Vision Research at the UMKC School of Medicine.
Koulen’s research interests focus on the underlying mechanisms of action and development of pharmacological and molecular biological treatments for disorders of the nervous and visual system and for cognitive decline during aging, including macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, Alzheimer’s disease, and stroke.
Koulen’s research program at the Vision Research Center (VRC) aims to identify new therapies to prevent and treat eye disease by boosting the self-defense mechanisms of the retina: preventing or slowing the death of cells in the retina and the resulting loss of vision. Grant funding Koulen brought to the School, and recently obtained, supports this work and more.
This funding is beneficial as Koulen, his team, and other researchers and physicians explore the challenges of an increasing elderly population in our country and worldwide.
“People expect to live life with good health, and everything that’s associated with that, well past their 70s and 80s,” Koulen said. “I think part of the reason for that is both clinical care and medical research have made great advances. With our efforts to increase basic research at the Vision Research Center, we’re trying to enable the physicians to have a direct input for developing new technological strategies through translational research. We are hoping to initiate new clinical studies from within the Vision Research Center and initiate new strategies for therapy development.”
A good fit
According to Nelson Sabates, M.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology, Koulen is a great fit for the School to achieve these goals.
“There is no doubt that his innovative and exciting work at the Vision Research Center will help us lead the nation in discovering new ways to prevent and combat eye diseases,” Sabates said.
Koulen comes to the UMKC School of Medicine after eight years at the University of North Texas, where he was professor of pharmacology and neuroscience and the director of the North Texas Eye Research Institute. A team of five researchers joined him in the move, and he is looking to fill 20 more positions in the near future.
“His scientific background was excellent, but I was looking for more than just a researcher,” Sabates said. “I was looking for a partner to help me build the Vision Research Center here (in Kansas City).”
This motivated Koulen to come to Kansas City and the Department of Ophthalmology, as he was looking for a more clinically oriented home for his research. UMKC’s unique health sciences campus on Hospital Hill enables interdisciplinary collaborations; Koulen has laboratories located in and adjacent to the new Health Sciences Building, allowing for a close relationship with the School of Pharmacy, a national go-to place for drug delivery, especially for the eye.
Koulen mentioned another advantage of UMKC is the daily exposure to patients struggling with chronic diseases of the nervous system.
“In our community, there is an urgent need because some of these diseases affect people with less access or ability to obtain high quality health care,” Koulen said. “So, this global challenge is also a local challenge, and I think UMKC can definitely be part of bringing solutions to the table.”
Excerpted from Panorama, the alumni magazine of the UMKC School of Medicine. Click here to view the entire current issue.
Dr. Koulen is a featured speaker at the upcoming Life Sciences Summit, March 8-9.