U Doc Gets Grant for Eye Research

The Moran Eye Center received a $600,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Eye Institute (NEI) to find clues into a rare eye disease called optic nerve drusen.

The money will fuel research into why crystals form on the eye’s optic nerve, an untreatable condition that affects peripheral vision, similar to symptoms of glaucoma. Drusen is German for ?crystal.? Approximately 2 percent of Americans, or one in 50, suffer from optic nerve drusen, Katz said.

Dr. Bradley Katz, eye center physician and researcher, will spearhead the research he began in the fall of 1998 with virtually no money.

Soon thereafter, and with some preliminary study data, Katz won a $10,000 grant from Prevent Blindness America. Katz said the small grant gave him a jump start on continued optic nerve drusen research.

And now, with a $600,000 award, Katz was given the means to go ?all-out.? The amount of money he was awarded is exactly what Katz requested from the National Institutes of Health.

?It?s always nice when that happens,? he said.

Katz?s research strategy will enlist the help of geneticist Dr. Louis Ptacek at the U?s Eccles Institute of Human Genetics.

?This work would be impossible without the cooperation of Ptacek,? Katz said.

Ptacek, who has recently discovered genes for neurological sleep disorders and inherited paralysis, is donating his time to help Katz. The grant money will pay for Ptacek?s supplies.

Their common goal is to find a treatment for an eye condition that currently doesn?t have one.

“We would, of course, like to identify the gene responsible for causing this condition and somehow translate that discovery into a treatment,” Katz said.

Moreover, Katz said his research may shed light on other inherited eye diseases, such as glaucoma and macular degeneration.

Optic nerve drusen occurs as small collections of calcium collect on the optic nerve, hampering peripheral vision.

?Because crystals enlarge, they compress adjacent nerve fibers and blood vessels,? Katz said.

?Optic nerve drusen is so common that a lot of eye doctors won?t even mention it to their patients,? Katz continued. ?A doctor may see a crystal during a regular eye exam and think ?Why worry the patient with something so minor?something we can?t treat anyway???

There may be no better place to do such research than Utah because of the vast genealogical records of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Katz said.

?That?s why Utah is a very good place to do genetic research,? he said. ?Doing genetic work here is very powerful.? Utahns are ?very willing to be a part of the study?They want to do whatever will help the work along because they see it will help future generations,? he said.

Katz is looking for study subjects, most of whom will be referred to him by other community and U doctors who know he?s doing the drusen research.

But Katz invites anyone who knows they have optic nerve drusen to call 585-6653 to be screened for the study, or to call the eye center for a diagnostic exam.

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