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August 14, 2002


Emory Ophthalmologist Receives Inaugural Jahnigen Career Development Scholars Award

Emory Eye Center ophthalmologist Enrique Garcia-Valenzuela, MD, has been selected as one of ten inaugural Jahnigen Career Development Scholars. The Jahnigen Career Development Scholars Awards were created to encourage young physicians and surgeons to become interested in the geriatrics aspect of their discipline as a career focus through the funding of highly competitive two-year awards in the amount of $200,000.

Dr. Garcia was selected for this program because of the promise demonstrated in his proposal, his mentors' sponsorship and his institution's support of his work. The awards program was developed under the aegis of an American Geriatrics Society/Hartford Foundation funded project: Increasing Geriatrics Expertise in Surgical and Related Medical Specialties. The mentors associated with Dr. Garcia's award are researcher Judith A. Kapp, PhD, of the Emory Eye Center, and Joseph G. Ouslander, MD, Division Director of Geriatrics at the Emory School of Medicine.

Dr. Garcia's proposal titled "Stem Cell Therapy for Age-Related Retinal Disease" addresses the most prevalent cause of blindness in the elderly. Age-related retinal disease includes macular degeneration and retinal detachment, among other retinal disorders.

"There is great potential to develop new treatments for these diseases using stem or progenitor cells," says Dr. Garcia. "Recent evidence points to the existence of retinal stem cells in the mammalian adult eye, including the human. We intend to search for retinal stem cells in eye bank postmortem eyes from subjects of different ages, with particular attention to those from old and very old donors."

"Comparisons among young and old donors and hosts will be made. A better understanding of the cellular behavior or stem cells of adult human origin would set research much closer to clinical application. The most significant potential of such stem cells is that they are probably located in an ocular region that is not typically affected by most retinal diseases, and it is a location easily accessible for their surgical retrieval. Stem cells from individual patients could be expanded and manipulated in vitro to be used later in transplantation therapy in the same patient," he concludes.


These awards, which focus on the urgent need for leaders in the surgical and related medical specialties who will bring an understanding of the unique characteristics of older patients to surgical training and practice, were announced by the American Geriatrics Society, The John A. Hartford Foundation, and the Atlantic Philanthropies in New York.

This ground-breaking program seeks to ameliorate the shortage of trained academicians with a special interest in and knowledge of the care of older people in the surgical and related medical specialties an area where the average age of patients is rapidly rising and where health outcomes are strongly influenced by the quality of care provided.

Each highly competitive two-year faculty development award of $200,000 provides a foundation on which an individual can initiate and sustain a career in geriatrics-oriented research and education. Ten young researchers from anesthesiology, general surgery, emergency medicine, ophthalmology, physical medicine and rehabilitation, orthopedic surgery, and urology were selected for this year's awards for their innovative proposals in falls prevention, vision rehabilitation, incontinence, and a host of other areas that are critical to senior health but poorly represented in research on the national level.

Dr. John R. Burton, Director, Division Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology at the John Hopkins School of Medicine, and Chair of the Dennis W. Jahnigen Career Development Scholars Awards Committee, pleased with the exceptionally high quality of the proposals received for this new award, stated that "the committee anticipates that each of these ten scholars will serve as an inspiration and role model for others pursuing academic leadership roles in the geriatrics aspect of their specialties."

According to Dr. David H. Solomon, Director Emeritus of the UCLA Center on Aging and Co-Director with Dr. John R. Burton of the AGS/Hartford program "Increasing Geriatrics Expertise in Surgical and Related Medical Specialties," Dennis W. Jahnigen, MD, the namesake of the new awards, "was a leading educator and geriatrician, and a driving force behind the movement to include geriatrics training in all medical specialty areas. With a looming shortage of geriatricians in general and a relative dearth of specialty physicians trained to address the complexities of health in aging, these career awards are not only a fitting tribute to his life's work but a much-needed boon to the survival and growth of geriatric research in areas that have been neglected for far too long."

Founded in 1942, the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) is a nationwide, not-for-profit association of geriatrics health care professionals dedicated to improving the health, independence and quality of life of all older people. The society supports this mission in many ways through its activities in clinical practice, professional education on the clinical care of older people, research, public education and information, public policy efforts, and through collaborative relationships with other organizations.

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