Vanessa Morales-Tirado of the Hamilton Eye Institute at UTHSC Receives $50,000 Grant for Ocular Immunology Research

Dr. Vanessa Morales-Tirado
Dr. Vanessa Morales-Tirado

At the Hamilton Eye Institute at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), ophthalmology and immunology are joining forces to advance medicine. Vanessa Morales-Tirado, MS, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Ophthalmology, and the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Biochemistry in the College of Medicine at UTHSC, is using her background in immunology to investigate diseases of the eye that lead to vision loss.

She has received $50,000 from the Alcon Research Institute Young Investigator Grant program for research that focuses on a specific molecule in the retinal ganglion cells, which communicate visual signals from the eye to the brain. Dr. Morales-Tirado hopes to provide insight into the survival and death of these cells, to identify potential drug targets in the cells for possible treatment, and to better understand how glaucoma affects them.

“Our results are expected to have a positive translational impact, as they will provide novel therapeutic targets in the treatment of glaucoma. We are very fortunate to have a collaborative team where researchers and physicians are working together to translate our findings,” Dr. Morales-Tirado said. “Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the world, with more than 70 million people suffering from it. If we find novel ways to halt the progress of the disease, and/or manage it, we are significantly contributing to many areas, as glaucoma has a significant global impact.”

According to Alcon, primary open-angle glaucoma, caused by fluid draining slowly from the eye resulting in increased pressure usually without pain, can mean as much as a 40 percent vision loss. Early to middle stages of the disease show no noticeable symptoms until irreparable damage is caused.

Narrow-angle glaucoma has immediate symptoms, including hazy vision, nausea or vomiting, pain in the eye, redness and headaches.

Neither form of glaucoma has a cure, and vision lost cannot be restored. Due to the silent, progressive nature of this condition, it is estimated that more than four million Americans have glaucoma, and only half know they have the condition.

“For those in vision research, the Alcon Research Institute Young Investigator Grant is an honor. I feel blessed that I received this opportunity, which helps my laboratory and career, but most importantly, is an opportunity to help many people through my research,” Dr. Morales-Tirado said.

The Alcon Foundation is committed to the global community in providing access to quality eye health, education and care. The Alcon Research Institute Young Investigator Grant awards $50,000 grants annually for vision research and ophthalmology.

About the Hamilton Eye Institute
Founded in 2004, the Hamilton Eye Institute consistently ranks among the top 10 providers of ophthalmic clinical care across the country. Its mission is to prevent blindness through patient care, research and education. As a premier eye center providing an advanced level of vision care, the institute’s team manages more than 40,000 outpatient visits annually and attracts patients from throughout the region and the world. HEI is the only university eye center providing an advanced level of vision care within a 150-mile radius of Memphis.