Retina Research

The Vitreoretinal Service is actively involved in clinical and laboratory investigations. Each ophthalmology fellow is expected to complete a research project based on clinical or laboratory experience. Fellows have access to the Experimental Surgery Unit as well as all laboratories within the department if arrangements are made with the appropriate supervisors of those laboratories. An EyeSi vitrectomy simulator is also available to fellows at the Veterans Affairs Hospital.

Medical Education and Research Facility (MERF)Research is usually performed within the department but can take place in another department or, occasionally, at another institution. The research interests of the faculty are varied, and many projects are in progress. Presentations of research are made annually during the Resident/Fellow Research Conference at the end of the academic year. The P.J. Leinfelder Award is given annually by a faculty committee to the fellow who has made the most significant contributions in preparing and delivering their research.

University of Iowa Institute for Vision Research has its own pharmaceutical grade, clinical Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) facility that is wholly dedicated to novel gene and stem cell therapies for humans with genetic eye diseases. The Retina Service is a regular site for major nationwide collaborative studies including:

  • Gene therapy for Leber Congenital Amaurosis Trial (phase II/III sponsored by Spark Therapeutics)
  • Gene therapy for exudative AMD (phase I)
  • Combination anti-VEGF/PDGF therapy for wet AMD
  • Combination anti-VEGF/ang-2 therapies
  • Multicenter Uveitis Steroid Treatment (MUST) Trials
  • Visual cycle modulator for dry AMD
  • Comparisons of Age-Related Macular Degeneration Treatments Trial (CATT)
  • VIEW1 (VEGF-trap)
  • The Collaborative Ocular Melanoma Study (COMS)
  • Choroidal Neovascularization Prevention Trial (CNVPT)
  • Submacular Surgery Trials (SST)
  • Complications of Age-Related Macular Degeneration Prevention Trial (CAPT)
  • Protein Kinase C Inhibitor Study of Diabetic Retinopathy
  • The Vitreoretinal Service has functioned as both an investigative center and as the national Photography Reading Center for the Collaborative Ocular Melanoma Study (COMS).

Research studies in large and small animals utilizing novel therapies focused on gene replacement and autologous, CRISPR-corrected stem cells are being conducted by Drs. Elliott Sohn, Ian Han, Steve Russell, and Ed Stone at the UI Institute for Vision Research.

Faculty and Research Areas of Interest

Elaine M. Binkley, portrait

Elaine M. Binkley, MD

Research Areas of Interest

  • Clinical and translational research in ocular melanoma and other posterior segment tumors
  • Clinical and translational research in von Hippel Lindau disease

H. Culver Boldt

H. Culver Boldt, MD

Research Areas of Interest

  • Clinical research on ocular melanoma and other ocular neoplasms
  • Clinical research on proliferative vitreoretinopathy, and age-related macular degeneration

James Folk

James C. Folk, MD

Research Area of Interest

  • Clinical and translational research on ocular inflammatory disease and diabetic retinopathy

Ian Han, MD

Ian C. Han, MD

Research Areas of Interest

  • Clinical research involving multimodal retinal imaging for the discovery of imaging-related biomarkers, genotype-phenotype correlations, and novel insights into pathophysiology
  • Translational research involving rat models of retinal degeneration for the development of gene and stem cell therapy for inherited eye disease

Steve Russell

Stephen R. Russell, MD

Research Areas of Interest

  • Research focus is on evaluating treatments for retinal disorders, typically through clinical trials.
  • Currently investigating gene replacement therapy to treat Leber's congenital amaurosis, as well as evaluating a light cycle inhibitor to treat the atrophic form of age-related macular degeneration termed geographic atrophy.
  • Currently working on electronic enhancement and sensory substitution approaches for low vision navigation and function.

Elliott Sohn

Elliott H. Sohn, MD

Research Areas of Interest

  • Translational and clinical research related to retinal diseases, especially:
    • Age-related macular degeneration: from stem cell therapies to clinical trials to basic mechanisms of the pathophysiology especially related to genotype
    • Diabetic retinopathy: tissue and image-based analysis in mice and humans with focus on pathophysiology and treatment
    • Inherited macular dystrophies and retinal degenerations–gene and stem cell therapies in pigs and humans as well as phenotype-genotype correlations

Edwin Stone

Edwin M. Stone, MD, PhD

Research Area of Interest

  • Diagnosis, mechanistic understanding, and treatment of a wide variety of inherited retinal diseases

Research Labs

Research Laboratories for Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences

The Carver College of Medicine is internationally recognized for its excellence and leadership in biomedical research. Among public medical schools, the College of Medicine ranks 11th in NIH funding in both the number of grants and total grant dollars per research faculty in public medical schools. University of Iowa Institute for Vision Research continues to garner funding for its ground-breaking research.

Carver College of Medicine faculty have been awarded approximately half of the University's total research funding and more than 80 percent of its National Institutes of Health funding. The University of Iowa is at the forefront among research universities in this country, and its contribution has been nationally recognized by such eminent authorities as the Carnegie Foundation, which classified The University of Iowa as having "very high research activity" among research universities.

Medical Education and Research Facility (MERF)

The Laboratory for Disease Gene Discovery (LDGD), directed by Val C. Shefffield, MD, PhD, has as its primary goal the identification and characterization of genes involved in hereditary human disease with special emphasis placed on the study of hereditary retinopathies including age-related macular degeneration. The main strategies used by the laboratory are the use of genetic mapping methods and genomic resources to identify disease genes based on their position within the genome and/or putative function. The LDGD has developed thousands of highly polymorphic human genetic markers and novel genetic mapping methods to aid in the efficient mapping of disease loci. In collaboration with the MOL, the LDGD has succeeded in the mapping of over thirty human disease loci, and the identification of ten disease-causing genes including genes involved in glaucoma, macular degeneration and syndromic retinopathies (Bardet-Biedl Syndrome).

The Chorioretinal Degenerations Laboratory is directed by Rob Mullins, PhD. The major focus of this laboratory is to understand the cellular and molecular basis of macular diseases, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD), central serous retinopathy and Best vitelliform macular degeneration.

The laboratory is exploring the role of the choroid in the development of AMD and other diseases. It is also looking at the pathogenesis of other macular diseases including Best disease, Bardet-Biedl syndrome, Leber congenital amaurosis, retinitis pigmentosa, uveitis, and other acquired and inherited diseases of the retina.  It utilizes animal models, human donor eyes, cell culture approaches, biochemical methods and genetic resources unique to the Carver Family Center for Macular Degeneration to approach this problem.

Research in Gene Therapy for eye diseases is under the auspices of Ian C. Han, MDStephen R. Russell, MDArlene V. Drack, MD, Elliott H. Sohn, MD, and Edwin Stone, MD, PhD. The University of Iowa is a leader in finding genetic causes of common and uncommon eye diseases such as Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA). Under the Carver Family Center for Macular Degeneration in the Department of Ophthalmology Institute for Vision Research, Drs. Russell, Drack, and Sohn are collaborating with pioneer gene therapists at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to treat children blind from birth with Leber’s congenital amaurosis. In addition Drs Drack, Russell, Sohn and Stone are investigating gene replacement therapies and gene directed therapies in mice and pigs for other inherited retinal conditions.

Stem Cell Research for retinal, eye and related diseases is directed by Budd Tucker, PhD. New to the UI in 2010, Dr. Tucker’s research on combining state-of-the-art patient-specific stem cell and biodegradable tissue engineering technologies for the treatment of blinding retinal degenerative diseases has earned a 2010 National Institutes of Health Director's New Innovator Award.

Computer-Aided Diagnosis. Dr. Michael Abramoff and coworkers have established large retinal imaging networks in the Midwest of the United States and the Netherlands, with widespread networks of retinal cameras connected through the internet to the University of Iowa, for screening of diabetic retinopathy. The research combines clinical ophthalmology, visual neuroscience and bioinformatics to study the phenotypes and genotypes of diabetic retinopathy, age related macular degeneration and glaucoma.

Many of our faculty are investigators for the Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Visual Loss at the Iowa City Veterans Administration Medical Center. Investigators: Randy Kardon, MD, PhD; Michael D. Abramoff, MD, PhD; Chris A. Johnson, PhD; Markus Kuehn, PhD; Young H. Kwon, MD, PhD; Thomas A. Oetting, MD; Milan Sonka, PhD; Michael Wall, MD.

See additional information at UI Institute for Vision Research. The institute supports and coordinates the vision research activities of nine existing research units at the University of Iowa.

Resident and Dr. Syed in the Eye Pathology LabOphthalmology Diagnostic Laboratories

The Frederick C. Blodi Ocular Pathology Laboratory occupies approximately 1,350 square feet in the UI Carver College of Medicine. A major renovation of this space was completed in 2001. Dr. Nasreen Syed joined the department as the laboratory director in September 2002. The lab serves as a national reference center and has up-to-date tissue processing equipment and computers to meet the needs of the most advanced anatomic pathology laboratory. One full-time histotechnologist staffs the laboratory.

The mission of The Carver Family Center for Macular Degeneration at University of Iowa is to cure inherited forms of blindness through the practical application of molecular biology. One can envision the process toward a cure as a serious of steps that begin with disease gene discovery, proceeds through investigations of animal models and affected patients, and ends with successful clinical trials of novel therapies.

The Molecular Ophthalmology Laboratory and The John and Marcia Carver Nonprofit Genetic Testing Laboratory occupy about 5,000 square feet in the Medical Education Research Facility. A vast array of techniques in molecular biology including DNA extraction, linkage analysis, single strand conformation polymorphism analysis, cloning and sequencing DNA, and polymerase chain reaction can be performed within the facility.

The John and Marcia Carver Nonprofit Genetic Testing Laboratory is dedicated to providing non-profit genetic testing for rare eye diseases to meet a societal need.