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June 15, 2009

SUNY Optometry Researcher Receives Fight for Sight Grant to Study Better Dry Eye Treatment

Research  scientist Fan Zhang, M.D., Ph.D, has been awarded a $20,000 Postdoctoral Award from Fight for Sight for her research study "Resolvin Mediated Control of Corneal Epithelial Function."  Dr. Zhang's grant will be used to study a novel approach for more effective treatment of dry eye.  Peter Reinach, Ph.D., Distinguished Teaching Professor at the SUNY State College of Optometry, is Dr. Zhang's mentor and sponsor for this grant.

"The therapeutic options are limited and inadequate for treating the millions of individuals suffering from dry eye disease" said Dr. Zhang. "Accordingly, there is an urgent need to identify novel drugs for treating the ocular surface pathophysiology resulting from exposure to hypertonic tears. We found that resolvin E1 is an excellent drug candidate since in hypertonic-stressed human corneal epithelial cells it induces responses that are required to improve ocular surface health. Our goal is to determine the cell signaling pathways that this lipid mediator activates to induce these responses. Such insight may markedly improve the management of this painful and sight threatening disease."  

Causes for dry eye may include among others:

  • Age - approximately 20 million older adults (age 65+) are affected by dry eye
  • Gender - women are more likely to develop dry eyes due to hormonal changes caused by pregnancy, the use of oral contraceptives, and menopause
  • Medications - certain medicines, including antihistamines, decongestants, blood pressure medications and antidepressants, can reduce the amount of tears produced in the eyes
  • Medical conditions - persons with rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and thyroid problems are more likely to have symptoms of dry eyes. Also, problems with inflammation of the eyelids (blepharitis), inflammation of the surfaces of the eye, or the inward or outward turning of eyelids can cause dry eyes to develop
  • Environmental conditions - exposure to smoke, wind and dry climates can increase tear evaporation resulting in dry eye symptoms. Failure to blink regularly, such as when staring at a computer screen for long periods of time, can also contribute to drying of the eyes

"This is a significant accomplishment and we are all very proud of Dr. Zhang. Her work on dry eye and ocular surface physiology has been very well received and will likely make some very valuable and important contributions. Dr. Zhang has been a standout at the institution as a PhD student and a post-doctoral research associate, and I believe that she has a bright future as an independent researcher," said Dr. David Troilo, Vice President/Dean of Academic Affairs.

State University of New York (SUNY) College of Optometry
The SUNY College of Optometry has nationally and internationally recognized faculty engaged in cutting-edge research in vision science.  Investigators conduct a variety of studies about the visual system and methods for improving visual function.  The College's in-house research facility, the Schnurmacher Institute for Vision Research, coordinates a colloquium series and supports postdoctoral as well as faculty research.