June 11, 2015

U-M Kellogg Eye Center faculty and resident receive grants from Knights Templar Eye Foundation

ANN ARBORRajesh C. Rao, M.D., Assistant Professor, Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, and Stephen Smith, M.D., second-year resident, University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center, were recently awarded Knights Templar Eye Foundation Career Starter Grants.

Dr. Paul Lee, Director of the Kellogg Eye Center, Mr. Larry Brown, Knights Templar Eye Foundation, with grant recipient Dr. Stephen Smith.
Dr. Rajesh Rao with Mr. Larry Brown, Knights Templar Eye Foundation

Dr. Rao’s award will help to fund research on his project, “Targeting EZH2, a Histone Methyltransferase as a Novel Therapy for Human Retinoblastoma.” This work could lead to new therapies that are more specific to the tumor, preserve vision, and avoid systemic side effects associated with current treatments of retinoblastoma, a blinding and lethal eye cancer in children.

“This support will advance our work in identifying new biomarkers and molecular targets for retinoblastoma. So far, this disease is treated by chemotherapy, which can be toxic, or surgical removal of the eye,” says Dr. Rao. “These funds will allow us to analyze nearly 50 human retinoblastoma samples for a new biomarker, EZH2. This protein is required for tumor survival and there is a drug already in clinical trial to inhibit it, and it is used for cancers outside the eye. Our ultimate goal is to bring the power of targeted therapies, common in treatments for other cancers, to retinoblastoma.” 

Dr. Paul Lee, Director of the Kellogg Eye Center, Mr. Larry Brown, Knights Templar Eye Foundation, with grant recipient Dr. Stephen Smith.
Dr. Paul Lee, Director of the Kellogg Eye Center, Mr. Larry Brown, Knights Templar Eye Foundation, with grant recipient Dr. Stephen Smith.

With his award, Dr. Smith will continue to study the ocular safety profile of new chemotherapy agents that can be injected into the eye to treat patients with advanced-stage retinoblastoma. His research has the potential to impact the way the disease is treated in this country and around the world.

“The future of retinoblastoma treatment lies in targeted therapies, including EZH2 inhibitors and nanoparticles, but it will take time before these treatments are available to patients. Our group is looking for chemotherapeutics that are currently available here and in the developing world, so that we can give patients access to safe, effective eye-preserving treatments now,” says Dr. Smith. “Our other primary goal is to begin to lay the groundwork for long-term collaboration with other retinoblastoma centers in the United States and around the world, with the goal of accelerating discovery and improving patient care. This grant will enable us to work toward these goals over the coming year.”

The Knights Templar Eye Foundation supports research that can help launch the careers of clinical or basic researchers committed to the prevention and cure of potentially blinding diseases in infants and children, such as amblyopia, congenital cataract, congenital glaucoma, retinopathy of prematurity, and other hereditary eye diseases such as retinal dystrophies or retinoblastoma.

Media Contact: Barbara Wylan Sefton at 734.763.6967, bwsefton@med.umich.edu

Last Modified: Thursday, 02-Jul-2015 14:31:56 EDT