Research to Prevent Blindness Grant Supports UT Ophthalmology

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Alessandro Iannaccone, MD,UTHSC associate professor of ophthalmology, has received a prestigious Research to Prevent Blindness Career Development Award for $200,000.

Alessandro Iannaccone, MD, MS, associate professor of ophthalmology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) and director of the Retinal Degeneration Center and Lions Vision Lab at Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center, has received a prestigious Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) Career Development Award for $200,000.

The award supports Dr. Iannaccone’s clinical research on retinal degenerative diseases, in general, and on age-related macular degeneration, in particular. He is investigating how inflammation, carotenoids (vitamins necessary for the good health of the section of the retina known as the macula), and genetic factors may interact to increase the risk of macular degeneration.

Dr. Iannaccone’s hypothesis is that high levels of inflammatory agents in the bloodstream may deplete these vitamins before they reach the eye and that certain people may be genetically predisposed to higher levels of inflammation, which could put them at greater risk for macular degeneration. Part of the research process involves measuring vitamin levels from the back of study participants’ eyes with a special custom-made instrument, the macular pigment optical densitometer, which is the only high tech device of its kind in the Mid-South.

“If our measurements correlate with the hypothesis, they may one day be used to predict who is at greater risk of macular degeneration, who needs to take vitamin supplements, whether or not the supplements are actually making it to the eye in sufficient amounts, and how much to adjust the dosage,” said Dr. Iannaccone.

“This study is parallel to an entire line of research on macular degeneration currently under investigation by UTHSC ophthalmology scientists at the Hamilton Eye Institute,” said Barrett Haik, MD, FACS, chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology.

Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) is the leading non-government supporter of eye research directed at the prevention, treatment and eradication of all diseases that threaten vision.

In pursuit of this objective, RPB has committed millions of dollars in grant support to provide scientific manpower, technological equipment and eye research laboratory facilities. As a result, RPB researchers have been associated with nearly every major breakthrough in the understanding and treatment of the loss of vision across the past 40 years.

Applications for grants must undergo a rigorous three-tiered review process by some of the nation’s most distinguished scientists representing a broad range of medical science disciplines and interests. Their recommendations are presented to the RPB Board of Trustees for final approval.