News Releases

November 23, 2018

Media contact: Leigh DeLozier, (404) 778-3711


Nieraj Jain, MD, is awarded multi-year research grant from Foundation Fighting Blindness

Vitreoretinal surgeon and ophthalmic geneticist Nieraj Jain, MD, has received a Career Development Award from Foundation Fighting Blindness (FFB) to support his research. The grant totals $375,000 over five years.

Jain is studying pattern dystrophies and a new drug-related retinal disorder that his team recently identified. This unique pigmentary maculopathy was noted in patients who had chronic exposure to pentosan polysulfate sodium (PPS), a therapy for interstitial cystitis.

The paper outlining the research was published in Ophthalmology in the fall of 2018. Jain’s presentation of their work earned the “Best Paper” honor for one of two sessions focusing on retina research papers during the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s annual meeting in October.

Patients described in this paper had undergone a standard panel of clinical retinal imaging, including fundus photography, spectral-domain OCT, and wide-field fundus autofluorescence imaging. Visual function was assessed in select patients with standard utomated perimetry and full-field and multifocal electroretinography.

In addition, patients were asked about the nature, timing, and progression of visual symptoms, as well as the extent of their exposure to PPS. They also were asked about systemic symptoms potentially related to mitochondrial disease. Extensive molecular testing did not reveal an underlying genetic cause in genes associated with hereditary retinal degeneration.

Nearly all eyes showed subtle hyperpigmentation resembling a pattern dystrophy. The change could possibly be caused by diseased retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells accumulating byproducts of the visual cycle in a pathway toward cellular death; epithelial cells might also be accumulating PPS or one of its metabolites.

“Although visual acuity is not impaired in most patients we evaluated, affected patients have prominent symptoms of difficulty reading and prolonged dark adaptation,” Jain continues. “We and our patients have many unanswered questions about this condition, including what is the long term prognosis for affected individuals. Clinicians should be aware of this because it is likely a preventable condition that can be mistaken for other well-known macular disorders such as pattern dystrophy and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).”

With the support of the FFB, Dr. Jain hopes to further explore the link between this medication and vision loss.  Further, Jain believes that this finding may provide an avenue to model retinal diseases such as macular degeneration and pattern dystrophy.  Vision scientists are always searching for new disease models to help shed light on the underlying causes of retinal disease and also to test new therapies.  The FFB grant will allow Dr. Jain to study this drug in animals in collaboration with Emory Eye Center scientists John Nickerson, PhD, and Jeffry Boatright, PhD. 

FFB funds support researchers nationwide who are working to provide preventions, treatments, and cures for people affected by retinitis pigmentosa, AMD, Stargardt disease, and other retinal degenerative diseases. Photoreceptor cells in the retina sense light and send impulses to the brain to create an image. When the photoreceptor cells malfunction or disappear because of retinal degenerative disease, the image the brain receives is blurred, distorted, or completely unseen. Vision loss from retinal degenerative diseases has a major impact on life because it affects everyday activities such as reading, driving, or watching TV.

“The Foundation Fighting Blindness has played a vital role in raising awareness of these diseases and supporting research discoveries that have led to promising studies on new treatments,” Jain says. “In our work, further investigation is warranted to confirm a causal relationship between PPS and this particular maculopathy, to explore pathophysiologic features, and to direct dosage and surveillance guidelines. I am thankful to have FFB’s funding support for this work. We are hopeful that we can provide additional answers to our patients who are struggling with this condition.”

The Emory Eye Center is the largest, most comprehensive eye care facility in Georgia, serving patients for more than 125 years. Physicians from across the globe seek residency and fellowship training at the Center from our internationally-renowned clinical and basic science faculty. Scientists at Emory Eye Center are researching the causes of and improved treatments for macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, genetic eye diseases and more. Innovative treatments, groundbreaking research and personalized care have earned Emory Eye Center the respect of patients and providers alike.




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