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Moran Eye Center’s Gregory S. Hageman, PhD, Named Distinguished Professor at University of Utah

Gregory S. Hageman, PhD
Gregory S. Hageman, PhD

The University of Utah has awarded renowned age-related macular degeneration (AMD) researcher Gregory S. Hageman, PhD, the rank of distinguished professor.

Hageman is the John A. Moran Presidential Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the University’s John A. Moran Eye Center and the executive director of Moran’s Sharon Eccles Steele Center for Translational Medicine (SCTM)

The University of Utah honor is reserved for individuals whose achievements exemplify the highest goals of scholarship, demonstrated by recognition accorded to them from peers with national and international stature and whose record includes evidence of a high dedication to teaching as demonstrated by recognition accorded to them by students and/or colleagues.

Hageman will receive the rank at commencement proceedings held in May 2024.

“Dr. Hageman is a brilliant scientist and entrepreneur who has revolutionized our understanding of the biology and clinical manifestations of AMD, a leading cause of blindness for Americans age 55 and older,” said Distinguished Professor Randall J Olson, MD, chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and Moran Eye Center CEO. “While this disease affects more than 20 million people each year, we knew little about AMD until Dr. Hageman began investigating AMD 30 years ago. He is now translating those discoveries into new treatments.”

Hageman and what he calls his “dream team” of talented staff and national and international experts at the SCTM work to turn discoveries more quickly into treatments. The team determined that AMD is not one disease, as long thought, but at least two biologically distinct diseases—one driven by a cluster of six genes on chromosome 1 and another by a pair of genes on chromosome 10. The SCTM most recently clarified the genetics of AMD to identify variants that protect some individuals from developing it.

A therapy for the most prevalent form of AMD, directed by genes on chromosome 1, is now being tested in humans as part of FDA-approved clinical trials. The gene therapy delivers a protective form of a gene called Complement Factor H (CFH) into the eye that should slow or halt disease progression. SCTM scientists recently uncovered genetic evidence that the therapy may also provide benefits for patients with chromosome 10-directed AMD.

A graduate of the University of Southern California, Hageman conducted his undergraduate and graduate studies in biology and marine biology. Driven by a curious nature and inspired by a relative losing her sight, Hageman began studying AMD at a time when researchers and physicians had little hope for finding ways to treat it.

His early paradigm-shifting work ushered in the modern era of AMD-related research by identifying associated genetic variations in several complement pathway genes, including CFH, CFHR1, CFHR3, CFB, and C2. Hageman garnered contiguous funding from the National Institutes of Health for more than 35 years. He was the principal investigator of a $14.7M R24 translational award supported by the National Eye Institute and involving colleagues from 12 participating national and international institutions.

At the SCTM, Hageman has assembled the largest repository of donated human eyes of its kind, now comprised of nearly 10,000 donated human eyes, including medical and ophthalmic histories, a family questionnaire, and blood and sera from each donor. These tissues and associated data have played a central role in characterizing biological pathways driving AMD and establishing genotype-phenotype associations. In the absence of animal models of AMD, this comprehensively annotated resource has been critical to breakthrough discoveries.

Hageman is a consummate mentor who has fostered a unique culture of learning in his laboratory and through his teaching roles at the University of Utah. He has instructed Vision Research and Visual Neuroscience and has collectively hosted or supervised 145 trainees throughout his career, many of them internationally.

While Hageman has been lauded with some of his field’s highest honors, he says the rank of Distinguished Professor is a special honor for him.

“I truly appreciate this recognition as one bestowed by my peers at our esteemed institution,” says Hageman.