Assistant Professor Tonia Rex of UTHSC Receives $1.8 Million Grant to Continue Glaucoma Research

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Tonia Rex, PhD, assistant professor in the Departments of Ophthalmology, and Anatomy and Neurobiology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), has received a grant totaling $1,874,688 from the National Eye Institute, a subsidiary of the National Institutes of Health.  The award will fund research on glaucoma.  The study titled, “Novel Therapy and Mechanisms in Glaucoma,” will be conducted over a five-year period.

“I am grateful to have received this grant in this competitive environment,” said Dr. Rex.  “I am excited about performing this translational research geared towards providing important insights into the pathogenesis of glaucoma and the development of much-needed treatments for this blinding disease.”

The primary goal of Dr. Rex’s research is to treat glaucoma using systemic neuroprotective gene therapy.  Nearly three million people have been diagnosed with glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness in the United States.  Current preventive therapies are directed at lowering the intraocular pressure (IOP), the most significant risk factor for the development of glaucoma.  However, the need for daily treatment can lead to poor patient compliance.

Dr. Rex and her research team focus on an alternative IOP-independent neuroprotective therapy, wherein they modify the glycoprotein hormone that controls red blood cell production, known as erythropoietin.  This modification diminishes the erythropoietic activity while preserving its neuroprotective activity, and packages it into a format to provide sustained, systemic delivery.  Early results have shown that this therapy could lead to breakthroughs in glaucoma treatment.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases.  For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.