Emory Report
September 25
, 2006
Volume 59, Number 5


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September 25, 2006
Eye Center awarded $1M grant to study macular degeneration

BY Joy bell

Emory Eye Center has been awarded a $1 million grant from the R. Howard Dobbs Jr. Foundation. The grant will support the research of Santa Ono, professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology, by establishing a new laboratory to investigate the role of immunity in the pathogenesis of age-related macular degeneration (AMD)—the leading cause of blindness in aged individuals.

Ono will work with Eye Center Director Thomas Aaberg and retinal specialist Daniel Martin to investigate three major healthcare problems: ocular cancer (melanoma and retinoblastoma), ocular inflammation and the immune component of AMD.

“We are thrilled to have Dr. Ono join the Eye Center research section,” said Aaberg. “His important macular degeneration research and the research of others will be facilitated by the establishment of the R. Howard Dobbs Jr. Ocular Immunology Laboratory, which will allow work on this debilitating disease to continue.”
The Eye Center’s involvement in fighting AMD in past years has involved many clinical trials and innovative treatments. Its involvement in the National Eye Institute’s Age-Related Eye Disease Study helped scientists determine that a regimen of supplements slowed the progression of AMD. Emory will also be involved in the second phase of the study, to launch this fall.

Much of the research on the most basic level looks at AMD as an immunopathological disease. The loss of vision caused by AMD involves an immune component. Ono’s work will carry on the work of researchers Kyle McKenna and Judy Kapp, who established a retinal cell transplant program at Emory. Also, Ono will work along with Hans Grossniklaus, an ocular pathologist at the Eye Center who is studying the host immune response associated with neovascularization (formation of new blood vessels), occurring in the wet form of AMD.

“In my view Emory is the most exciting academic center on the globe. It is so, not only because of our current strengths, but because of our trajectory and our strategic vision,” Ono said. “I am honored to work with outstanding colleagues at the Eye Center and elsewhere across the University, and am committed to making the new Dobbs Laboratory a world center for research into the immune component of AMD.

“The work that we will undertake will dovetail with some of the cross-cutting themes of President Wagner’s strategic plan, and is one example of Mike Johns’ vision for predictive medicine. Emory research will help uncover how the immune system contributes to AMD, but will also pave the way for the development of new diagnostics that are at the heart of predictive medicine.”

Ono also holds the University appointment of vice provost for academic initiatives and deputy to the provost. In that capacity he has oversight of student enrollment activities across the University and helps facilitate implementation of the University’s strategic plan.

“Santa Ono is a world-class scientist and experienced academic administrator,” said Earl Lewis, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “His standing as a scholar and administrator first attracted my attention. The fact that he has received this highly prized award is an external endorsement of the assessment we had already made. I am delighted that Santa is at Emory and I look forward to working with him in his dual roles of faculty member and vice provost.”