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Media Contact: Joy Bell 22 September 2006    
  (404) 778-3711   Print  | Email ]

Macular Degeneration Immune Studies at Emory Eye Center Receive $1 Million Grant
Emory Eye Center has been awarded $1 million from the R. Howard Dobbs, Jr. Foundation, to study macular degeneration. The grant will support the research of Santa Jeremy Ono, PhD, and the establishment of a new laboratory to investigate the role of immunity in the pathogenesis of age-related macular degeneration (the leading cause of blindness in aged individuals).

Rufus Howard Dobbs, Jr., an alumnus of Emory University who had macular degeneration, held a particular interest in helping to underwrite vision research. In 2003, funding from his estate awarded Emory Eye Center a $6.6 million gift, specifically designated for macular degeneration research.

At Emory Eye Center, Dr. Ono will work with Eye Center physicians Thomas M. Aaberg, Sr. and Daniel F. Martin, both retinal specialists. Dr. Ono's vision research team investigates three major healthcare problems: ocular cancer (melanoma and retinoblastoma), ocular inflammation, and the immune component of age-related macular degeneration

Dr. Ono also holds a university appointment as Vice Provost for Academic Initiatives and Deputy to the Provost at Emory University. In that capacity he has oversight of student enrollment activities across the university and helps facilitate implementation of the university's strategic plan.

Dr. Ono previously was the Cumberlege Professor of Biomedical Science and later the GlaxoSmithKline Professor of Ocular Immunology at the University College, London, from 2001-2006. He has published more than 125 articles and scholarly abstracts and has been continuously funded as a scientist-researcher since 1985. He has served on the Medical Research Council's Medical Advisory Board and College of Experts, and the Hypersensitivity, Autoimmune and Immune-Mediated Diseases Study Section of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

"Dr. Santa Ono is a world-class scientist and experienced academic administrator," says Earl Lewis, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs at Emory. "His standing as a scholar and administrator first attracted my attention. The fact that he has received this highly prized award is an external endorsement of the assessment we had already made. I am delighted that Santa is at Emory and I look forward to working with him in his dual roles of faculty member and Vice Provost. "

"Dr. Ono is an outstanding scientist whose presence strengthens our already excellent Department of Ophthalmology. His research focuses on some of the most important issues in diseases of the eye," says Emory School of Medicine Dean Thomas J. Lawley.

"We are thrilled to have Dr. Ono join the Eye Center research section," says Thomas M. Aaberg, Sr., MD, director of Emory Eye Center. "His important macular degeneration research and the research of others will be facilitated by the establishment of the R. Howard Dobbs Jr. Ocular Immunology Laboratory, which will allow work on this debilitating disease to continue. Dr. Ono is a world-class scientist and we all look forward to great collaborative work in the future."

Dr. Ono is also extremely excited about joining Emory University. "In my view Emory is the most exciting academic center on the globe. It is so, not only because of our current strengths, but because of our trajectory and our strategic vision," he says. "I am honored to work with outstanding colleagues at the Emory Eye Center and elsewhere across the university, and am committed to making the new Dobbs Laboratory a world center for research into the immune component of AMD. The work that we will undertake will dove tail with some of the cross-cutting themes of President Wagner's strategic plan, and is one example of Dr. Michael Johns' vision for predictive medicine. Emory research will help uncover how the immune system contributes to AMD, but will also pave the way for the development of new diagnostic biomarkers that are at the heart of predictive medicine."

Background Emory Eye Center's involvement in fighting age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in past years has involved many clinical trials and innovative treatments. Its involvement in the National Eye Institute's Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) helped scientists determine that a regimen of supplements slowed the progression of AMD in those at high risk for the disease. Emory will also be involved in the second phase of this important study to be launched this fall.

Additional clinical trials have included the collaborative work of Drs. Daniel Martin and Doyle Stulting in treating patients who have both cataract and severe vision loss with a new intraocular telescope. Retinal physicians are also involved in trials evaluating anti-VEGF compounds, which are showing potential in slowing the progression of wet AMD. Henry Edelhauser, PhD, is studying new ways of delivering drugs to the retina through the white part (sclera) of the eye for the treatment of AMD. He has been awarded a $7 million NIH grant to study drug delivery to the retina over the next five years. Emory is also one of only three centers in the United States studying the effectiveness of surgically implanted retinal chips in patients with damaged retinas.

Much of the AMD research on the most basic level looks at this disease as an immunopathological disease. The loss of vision caused by AMD involves an immune component. Dr. Ono's work will carry on the work of past researcher Judy Kapp, who established a retinal cell transplant program at Emory, and her colleague, Dr. Kyle McKenna. Also, Dr. Ono will work along with Hans Grossniklaus, MD, an ocular pathologist at the Eye Center who is studying the host immune response associated with neovascularization (formation of new blood vessels), occurring in the wet form of AMD.

Background on Dr. Ono Santa Jeremy Ono, PhD, vice provost for academic initiatives and deputy provost at Emory University, also serves as professor in the Department of Ophthalmology, Emory University School of Medicine. As vice provost, Dr. Ono has oversight of student enrollment activities at Emory, including the Office of Admissions, Office of Financial Aid and the Registrar's Office. Dr. Ono also leads specific academic initiatives within the university's strategic plan. As deputy to the Provost, Dr. Ono works closely with Provost Earl Lewis on various initiatives and will deputize for him where appropriate. Dr. Ono is the highest-ranking Asian American administrator in university history.

Dr. Ono received his education at the University of Chicago, McGill and Harvard. His training in biochemistry and molecular biology at Harvard was supported by a Helen Hay Whitney Foundation Fellowship. Dr. Ono's first academic appointment was as assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. While at Hopkins, he won the American Diabetes Association Career Development Award and the Investigator Award from the National Arthritis Foundation. In 1996, Dr. Ono was recruited to the Harvard Medical School, where he was an associate professor and on staff at the Schepens Eye Research Institute. He was a member of the executive committee of the Harvard Program in immunology, principal investigator of the Harvard Program in Ocular Immunology and on the executive committee of the NIH Training Program in Molecular Bases of Eye Diseases.

In 2001 Dr. Ono was appointed Cumberlege Professor and then GlaxoSmithKline Chair of Biomedical Sciences at University College London and Moorfields Eye Hospital. He was head of the Department of Immunology at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and on the executive committee of the UCL Division of Infection & Immunity. At UCL, Dr. Ono also served as associate dean of students, a member of the UCL Council (the university's governing body) and its finance committee.

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