Birdies for Health: Glaucoma

Rob Nickells - Professor and Frederick A. Davis Chair of Ophthalmology at UW Madison Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences

Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness world-wide. Although an increase in intraocular pressure is often associated with this disease, it is marked by the progressive degeneration of retinal ganglion cell axons, which make up the optic nerve, and the apoptotic death of retinal ganglion cell bodies in the retina. Much of this work has centered around the critical function of the pro-apoptotic gene Bax, which is a critical mediator of mitochondrial dysfunction during this cell death process. Using Bax-depleted or deficient mice, the lab has demonstrated an absolute dependence of ganglion cell soma degeneration in both acute models of optic nerve injury, and in more chronic models of genetically induced ocular hypertension and glaucoma in these animals. Interestingly, in glaucoma, axonal degeneration is only retarded in mice that have somas completely resilient to degeneration. Dr. Nickells has now focused much of his research on better understanding the mechanisms of BAX protein activation in retinal ganglion cells, and whether or not the intrinsic apoptotic program occurs independently in ganglion cell axons. The ultimate goal is to develop a therapeutic that targets and inhibits BAX protein function in the hope of preventing neuronal loss in the retina in a way that may extend to many different neurodegenerative diseases.

Russ Rothman - CEO of Triple R Consulting, LLC; Grateful Patient and Department of Ophthalmology Advisory Board Member

Longtime patient of UW Health Eye Clinics with Dr. Gregg Heatley for glaucoma and other DOVS docs. Russ is an avid fisherman and baseball fan, as well as a retired marketing business owner and consultant. 

Kimberly Stepien, MD - Co-Vice Chair for Clinical Affairs in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences; Director of the Adult Inherited Retinal Degenerations Clinic and Co-Director of the Ocular Genetics Service, UW-Madison

Dr. Stepien is a clinical scientist with research interests in inherited retinal degenerations and use of novel high-resolution retinal imaging to characterize the earliest retinal changes associated with retinal pathology. She is currently PI or co-investigator for several clinical trials exploring novel therapies for inherited retinal degenerations and other retinal pathology, and she serves as an investigator at the Fundus Photography Reading Center at UW-Madison. She has significant interest in use of non-invasive high resolution retinal imaging to characterize cellular retinal findings in a variety of retinal pathologies including those with inherited retinal degenerations. As a medical retina specialist, she brings important clinical expertise and has a significant base of patients including those with age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, posterior uveitis, and inherited retinal degenerations.

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