Meet The Children’s Eye Foundation’s 2017 Research Grant recipient, Dr. Dolly Padovani-Claudio!
One of the longest running programs of The Children’s Eye Foundation has been our Research Grants. At CEF we very firmly believe research adds the scientific groundwork that makes it possible to detect, correct, and give treatment that can eliminate preventable vision loss from serious childhood eye conditions. Since the first grant was awarded in 1975, CEF has given over $1,000,000 dollars to research related to children’s eyesight.
In 2017, we were so happy to award the Research Grant to Dr. Dolly Padovani-Claudio. Recently we caught up with Dr. Padovani-Claudio to learn more about her research and how the work is going.
How long have you been a Pediatric Ophthalmologist?
Three years. I began practicing as a fully certified pediatric ophthalmologist in 2015 at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Prior to that I completed a fellowship in pediatric ophthalmology at the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center.
Why did you want to become a Pediatric Ophthalmologist?
I love working with children. I like the team-oriented approach to pediatric ophthalmology and how I get to interact with the entire family (not just the patient) to make joint decisions about the care of my patients. I like teaching families and feel it is imperative that families understand the disease process to increase their adherence with our recommended treatments.
In your practice, how do you spend most of your time?
I spend 75% of my time doing research. I also have a scheduled clinic and perform strabismus surgery and other minor procedures in the operating room. I teach medical students, orthoptist students, residents and fellows in the clinic and the operating room to help train the next generation of pediatric ophthalmology providers.
Tell us about your research.
I study how the visual system (specifically the retina, which is like the film of a camera in the back of our eyes) interacts with the immune system to promote or limit disease. In particular, I study how molecules circulating in our blood affect the blood vessels in the retina. Some disease processes can cause the retinal blood vessels to leak from inflammation. This is seen in conditions like retinopathy of prematurity and diabetes, which I encounter in my practice. The retina gets swollen and its layers get disrupted, like the pages in a book separate when they get wet. In these diseases, retinal vessels can grow beyond the surface of the retina, like tree roots growing through a sidewalk, also disrupting the layers of the retina. When this happens, vision can be affected due to distortion of the image falling on a surface that is no longer flat, retinal cells that no longer communicate with each other properly, and scars.
How is the research going?
It’s going very well. We are using models of retinal disease to look at interactions between blood vessel cells and immune cells. We start by studying molecules that prior research has shown are elevated in the eyes and blood of people with blinding diseases that affect retinal blood vessels. We focus on molecules that are known to alter blood vessel function in other diseases (like tumors or inflammatory lung disease) and investigate how they affect specific retinal cells (blood vessel cells, neurons, and support cells). We then look at how existing drugs that block these molecules affect the behavior of the retinal cells. One tricky factor in understanding the effects of these molecules is that sometimes they help one cell type and hurt another.
What are you hoping to learn from your research?
Our ultimate goal is to accelerate the development of treatments for blinding diseases by repurposing drugs developed for other diseases to keep retinal vessels healthy.
How was the CEF Research Grant helpful?
This grant has afforded us the resources to start collaborating with groups that are developing new research tools to characterize how single cells in tissues respond to their environment. By using these tools to analyze retinal tissues, our goal is to identify which cells produce the molecules we suspect are responsible for causing disease, and which cells have the capacity to respond to those molecules (in a good or bad way). This information will help us better distinguish which specific cell responses should be targeted by drugs. Our goal is to promote the development of medicines that will block the activation of cells that lead to disease while allowing activation of cells that promote a healthy retinal health.
At CEF, we are grateful to doctors like Dr. Padovani-Claudio for pursuing the next great developments in pediatric ophthalmology. It’s through research we are able to discover new and better treatments to ultimately completely eliminate childhood preventable blindness. If you are a Pediatric Ophthalmologist interested in our Research Grant program, the application window for 2018 is open until September. You can apply here!
We are are also grateful to all of our supporters. Because of people like you, we are able to support the efforts of Dr. Padovani-Claudio. Your support is directly helping us achieve our mission of ensuring healthy sight for every child.