The UMKC School of Medicine, founded in 1971, has another reason to celebrate its innovative medical education and research programs.
With over 14,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, UMKC contributes to health and life sciences, visual and performing arts, urban issues and education and a fulfilling campus life.
With over $46 million in research grants and contracts last year, the university involved itself on the medical research front.
Recently, researchers collaborating between UMKC and the Vision Research Center at Truman Medical Center uncovered a biological process that results in dry-eye disease. Those with dry-eye disease not only experience severe discomfort due to a lack of lubricating tears but, in many cases, visual disturbances.
Not only have the researchers, led by Simon Kaja, Ph.D., discovered what causes the dryness, but several potential means to treat the disease through pharmaceutical therapy.
“Cells have elaborate mechanisms of self-defense that allow them to effectively communicate with their environment,” Kaja explained. “However, adaptation to an altered environment during conditions of disease, stress and aging may lead to disease and loss of function.”
If scientists could boost the function of the ailing tear glands and halt the failing of mechanisms due to age, the symptoms of dry-eye disease could ultimately be relieved or prevented altogether.
The main research focus in Dr. Kaja’s laboratory is on pathophysiological mechanisms underlying neurological and visual disorders, according to his website.
Eye diseases, mainly age-related, are the leading cause of visual impairment and blindness in the United States.
According to the National Institute of Health, up to a third of the population, aged 50 years and older, is affected by dry-eye disease.
Kaja’s research helped the Vision Research Center, several UMKC schools and Kansas City medical centers secure a grant-in-aid for the center’s research. This research focuses on targeting the pathophysiological processes, which cause dry-eye disease.
This grant and others like it conduct vision-related research and eye clinics in the United States and internationally.
Fight for Sight funds these fellowships and grants as a non-profit organization dedicated to providing a means for researchers and investigators to gain a greater understanding of the prevention and treatment of visual disorders, especially those leading to blindness.
”[I want] to better understand the physiology of and help develop new, more effective treatments for complex diseases,” Kaja said.
His work with the Vision Research Center and its interdisciplinary synergy, aims to make a difference in the lives of millions of people through translational research and comprehensive patient care.
Scientists like Kaja help make UMKC a nationally recognized center for life sciences and transforming the future of healthcare.
Already creating a legacy for himself, Kaja has only been working at UMKC since January 2009.
Before arriving in Kansas City, Kaja worked at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth as a research scientist in the Department of Pharmacology and Neuroscience.
Now he serves as the Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology at the UMKC School of Medicine and as Associate Director of Pre-clinical Research at the Vision Research Center in Kansas City.