News from The Retina Institute

March 22, 2013

Two ASRS Members Win National Eye Institute Prizes in National Audacious Goals Challenge

The National Eye Institute (NEI) selected proposals from ASRS members Rajesh C. Rao, MD, and Jeffrey Stern, MD, PhD, as 2 of this year’s Challenge to Identify Audacious Goals in Vision Research and Blindness Rehabilitation winners. NEI received nearly 500 entries in its competition, which is part of a government-wide effort to spurn innovation aimed at reducing the burden of vision disorders and diseases worldwide.

Rajesh C. Rao, MD
The Retina Institute
St. Louis, Missouri

Rao, who completed his fellowship on June 30th and was the youngest winner, was recognized for his proposal “An Audacious Goal: Reprogramming the Retina” which discusses reprogramming surviving retinal cells into specific cell types to replace damaged cells. He also proposes to reprogram easy-to-isolate cells (eg, blood and skin cells or Muller cells from retinal surgery) directly into retinal cell types that are lost, such as photoreceptors or retinal pigment epithelium. By these direct reprogramming strategies, Rao hopes to bypass a stem cell intermediate state—as contaminating stem cells in a retinal transplant can migrate or proliferate out of control—in order to decrease tumor formation. Rao will begin research in retinal cell reprogramming this year at the University of Michigan, as a physician-scientist in the NEI-funded K12 Mentored Clinician Scientist Award.

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