The John A. Moran Eye Center recently honored seven of its University of Utah faculty scholars who hold endowed chairs and professorships and the generous donors who made the positions possible.
Endowed positions represent a unique partnership, with patients, community, and society benefitting through these investments in the future, noted Randall J Olson, MD, chair of the University of Utah Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and CEO of the Moran Eye Center.
“As the university’s primary means of recognizing academic distinction, endowed chairs and professorships promote excellence, and enable the university to attract, retain, and honor distinguished faculty members,” he said.
“We are grateful to all of the donors who, across generations, make the Moran Eye Center the object of their lasting and generous philanthropy.”
Here are the faculty honored at the May 30 event:
Alessandra Angelucci, MD, PhD—Mary H. Boesche Endowed Professorship
Angelucci is a National Institutes of Health (NIH) BRAIN Initiative grantee and focuses her lab’s research on visual cortex circuitry and function—key knowledge in understanding exactly how vision occurs in the brain and how it might be reproduced. She is leading efforts to develop a visual prosthesis that could provide a form of artificial sight to people who have lost their vision. She also is developing a device that will support unprecedented investigations of neural function.
"I intend to use this award to pursue risky and novel ideas for which it is so difficult to get federal funding. To give you an idea of how difficult it is, I am part of an international team with the goal of developing a visual cortical prosthesis to restore vision. We submitted a grant with this novel idea to the NIH, and we failed. But thanks to generous donations such as this, we can continue to pursue risky ideas, and in fact, we have had our first patient implantation. We are now hoping to use our results to convince an NIH panel that this is worth funding."
David Krizaj, PhD— John Frederick Carter Endowed Professorship
Krizaj’s lab is conducting groundbreaking research to help patients with glaucoma, a disease that can cause blindness as it damages the optic nerve responsible for carrying visual information to the brain. He recently developed a new therapy that lowers eye pressure while protecting retinal neurons from mechanical stress. Ready for clinical trials, this therapy offers a new approach to treat glaucoma.
"About a year ago there was a postdoc who came to me, and this is an amazing guy, an expert in histology, and I heard myself saying, “You’ve got the job,” but I wasn’t sure how we were going to pay for it. Then, a couple of months later, I heard about this honor. Now we are working on a completely novel project in my lab related to diabetic retinopathy…and I feel we are addressing things that have never been thought about in vision research."
Presidential Endowed Chairs
Wolfgang B. Baehr, PhD— Ralph and Mary Tuck Presidential Endowed Chair
Baehr joined the Moran Eye Center in 1995, and his work has impacted the understanding of phototransduction—the process by which light is converted into electrical signals in the retina. Among his lab's many discoveries, he is known for identifying the second and third components of the phototransduction “signaling” cascade. His was the first breakthrough since the light-sensing pigment, rhodopsin, was identified 100 years earlier.
“I have really had a wonderful career at the Moran Eye Center for almost 25 years now. I am thankful for this support.”
Paul S. Bernstein, MD, PhD— Val A. and Edith D. Green Presidential Endowed Chair
Bernstein, director of clinical research and associate director of research, is a retinal specialist. His latest research includes a focus on the genetics and imaging of macular telangiectasia type II (MacTel), a difficult-to-diagnose hereditary disease that causes central vision loss. He’s also made a series of discoveries that will change the paradigm of diagnosis and treatment for several other diseases using the only Heidelberg Engineering Spectralis-based Fluorescence Lifetime Imaging Ophthalmoscope in the U.S.
“[FLIO] is a very exciting way of imaging the eye. Not only does it work on MacTel, but it also seems to be very important for AMD. We think we can use the device to image the retina and pick out people who are at risk of the disease before they even have the disease. If they have the genes that predispose them to MacTel, to AMD, we’d see the signature, and we can identify these people and start interventions before they have the problems. Even though I have the device for free, I need people to run it, and people are expensive. Having this kind of funding allows me to keep doing this work.”
Alan S. Crandall, MD— John E. and Marva M. Warnock Presidential Endowed Chair
Crandall is the Moran Eye Center’s senior vice chair, director of Glaucoma and Cataract, and senior medical director of the Global Outreach Division. A skilled surgeon, Crandall focuses on the medical and surgical management of glaucoma and cataracts, as well as complicated anterior segment surgery. He is the only physician to receive humanitarian awards from all three major ophthalmology organizations.
“This is really a great honor to have this chair. With all the brilliant people at Moran, it’s nice to say that if you work hard, love taking care of people and love your job, you can receive an endowed position, too.”
Gregory S. Hageman, PhD— John A. Moran Presidential Endowed Chair
Hageman directs Moran’s Sharon Eccles Steele Center for Translational Medicine (SCTM). With the support of committed donors, Hageman has turned a series of groundbreaking discoveries into a new treatment to halt, even prevent, a prevalent form of AMD. Dr. Hageman and his team have developed a treatment based on years of genetic research that demonstrates AMD is at least two biologically distinct diseases, and recently recruited several top international researchers to the SCTM team to conduct a clinical trial.
“I started here 10 years ago with a dream to take what I had done for the past 20 years and turn that into therapeutics for AMD … I hold the John Moran Chair, and it’s such an incredible honor and privilege to hold that chair, it’s a little bit humbling honestly. I have primarily used those funds in a very special niche, and that niche has been to bring individuals to Moran from all over the world to spend time with our research teams and to learn from us and for us to learn from them. Those are funds that are very difficult to find. We’ve had the privilege of having some incredible visitors over the past 10 years, and I’m happy to say that three of those individuals have been recruited.”
Mary Elizabeth Hartnett, MD— Calvin S. and JeNeal N. Hatch Presidential Endowed Chair
Hartnett is the founder and director of Moran’s Pediatric Retina Center and specializes in vitreoretinal surgery, managing pediatric and adult retinal medical and surgical conditions. As principal investigator of a National Institutes of Health-funded laboratory, her latest research focuses on retinopathy of prematurity, a blinding disorder affecting premature infants and the leading cause of childhood vision loss and blindness.
“I study why blood vessels grow into the wrong compartments in the eye, and we are interested in understanding this process more so we can try to prevent disease. With this endowed chair, I am able to have support to explore creative ideas—ideas that are different than what my NIH funding restricts me to. It also allows me to support promising investigators in my laboratory, and collaborations both within Moran and the university, as well as nationally and internationally. All these things are very important for us to make a difference.”
Jack R. and Hazel M. Robertson Presidential Endowed Chair
The search is on to fill a recently created eighth endowed position, the Jack R. and Hazel M. Robertson Presidential Endowed Chair.