UMKC’s Vision Research Center develops a novel strategy to treat glaucoma

American Health Assistance Foundation provides $100,000 grant

The University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) Vision Research Center has been awarded a $100,000 grant (over two years) from the BrightFocus Foundation for their proposal “Protection of optic nerve head astrocytes and structure in glaucoma.”

Degeneration or acute damage of the retina due to glaucoma is a major cause of visual loss and blindness in the United States and worldwide. As glaucoma affects significant and increasing portions of the U.S. population including minorities affected by disparities in health care delivery, determining causes, mechanisms of action and subsequently potential treatment strategies will contribute to improving health care, health and performance requiring visual tasks. The project uses a self-defense mechanism of the eye to protect against damage from glaucoma discovered at UMKC’s interdisciplinary Vision Research Center.

The project’s goal is to characterize and use a novel drug target, which is part of the structure of the eye that is most affected by the blinding disease glaucoma, the so called optic nerve head. This structure of the eye is critical for the transmission of visual information to the brain and is most vulnerable to disease processes. The new approach developed by researchers at UMKC’s Vision Research Center is characterized by two novel aspects for glaucoma research and therapy development: targeting of a structure in the eye for which no therapy approaches are available and the combination of preserving structure and function simultaneously.

Peter Koulen, Ph.D., Professor and Felix and Carmen Sabates Missouri Endowed Chair in Vision Research at UMKC’s School of Medicine and Director of Basic Research at the Vision Research Center, serves as principal investigator of this program.

“This novel intervention approach has the potential be complementary in nature to currently available clinical therapies aimed at lowering the pressure inside the eye, so far the only treatment option for glaucoma,” Koulen said.

This newly funded basic science research project will also provide opportunities for the training of UMKC students, residents and fellow and generate the basis for future translational research.

“The interdisciplinary structure of our Vision Research Center fosters this kind of innovative research fueling the pipeline for new therapy development in areas of great clinical need,” Koulen said.

About the Vision Research Center

The Vision Research Center was founded as and is a well established collaboration of several of UMKC schools and Kansas City Medical Centers and thus offers an unprecedented interdisciplinary synergy with a unified goal: to better diagnose, prevent, and treat eye disease and vision disorders through translational research in order to make a difference in the lives of tens of millions of people worldwide. To this end, the center conducts federally and industry funded basic, translational and clinical research to develop new medical therapies and offers patient care in all subspecialties of ophthalmology. The center’s nationally recognized excellence in research, patient care and medical education contribute to UMKC’s strengths in the life sciences.

About the UMKC School of Medicine

The UMKC School of Medicine was founded in 1971 as an innovative combined degree program. From its baccalaureate/MD curriculum to a docent system that emphasizes small group learning, the school has remained a trendsetter in medical education and research.

About UMKC

The University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), one of four University of Missouri campuses, is a public university serving more than 14,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students. UMKC engages with the community and economy based on a four-part mission: life and health sciences; visual and performing arts; urban issues and education; and a vibrant learning and campus life experience.

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