EYECARE SUNY College of Optometry Receives $2 Million+ NIH Research Project Grant to Support Research into Retinal Regeneration By Staff Thursday, March 17, 2022 12:18 AM Dr. Stefanie Wohl. NEW YORK—SUNY College of Optometry’s Dr. Stefanie Wohl received a highly-competitive $2 million grant from the National Eye Institute (NEI), which falls under the Institutes of Health (NIH), bolstering her groundbreaking research into regenerating retinal neurons to restore eyesight, the College announced. This grant will fund research about an endogenous cell replacement strategy for retinal regeneration. Retinal diseases often lead to visual impairment or blindness requiring medical intervention to regenerate the retina and restore vision. The prestigious grant is awarded based on several criteria, including the significance of the research, its innovation in medical science, the investigator themselves, as well as the scientific approach, rigor and reproducibility of the research. Dr. Wohl’s research focuses on an endogenous cell type, called Müller glia, that can function as a stem cell-like cell and replace lost neurons after damage—a natural phenomenon occurring in some species of fish, but dormant in mammals including humans. Dr. Wohl will use molecules called microRNAs to reprogram Müller glia into stem cells-like cells that subsequently differentiate into retinal neurons to replace the lost neuronal cells. Dr. Miduturu Srinivas, professor, along with Dr. Suresh Viswanathan, chair of the Department of Biological and Vision sciences, will participate as collaborators in this project helping evaluate the electrophysiological properties of these newly generated neurons. “I am honored and grateful to receive this grant which will advance our team’s efforts to explore the underlying mechanisms of retinal regeneration,” said Dr. Wohl. “Support from the NIH will allow us to decipher further aspects of the gene-regulatory networks of retinal development and make substantial strides in the field of regenerative medicine. With this funding, we hope to bring the medical community one step closer to the long-term goal of effectively treating patients suffering from retinal ailments like glaucoma or retinitis pigmentosa. “Dr. Wohl and her research on retinal repair and regeneration represent the best of what our research programs at SUNY Optometry have to offer for the translation of molecular biology to the future of eye care. Her efforts will not only make a difference for the treatment of retinal disease, but dramatically advance our research mission at the college and the profession of optometry,” said SUNY Optometry’s dean and vice president for Academic Affairs Dr. David Troilo. His sentiments are matched by college president Dr. David A. Heath, “We are exceptionally proud of our research program, Dr. Wohl’s work, and receiving this highly-competitive grant. We look forward to continuing to serve as not only a world-class hub for optometric care, but an engine for breakthroughs in the research and study of eye-related diseases and conditions.” Administered by the National Institutes of Health, The Research Project Grant (RO1) is the original and historically oldest grant mechanism used by the NIH. The R01 provides support for health-related research and development, based on the mission of the NIH. The R01 grant is awarded to those who aim to support the mission of the NIH and seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability. Dr. Stefanie Wohl received her Ph.D. in Biology from the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena with highest honors in 2011, where she previously received her BS and MS, as well. Born in Germany. For the past 10 years, she has studied the role of microRNAs in Müller glia cell development and function. In 2014, she was awarded a two-year scholarship from the German Research Foundation. Dr. Wohl joined the SUNY Optometry faculty in 2018 establishing and directing the Molecular Biology Research Laboratory at the College and was awarded with the New York State Empire Innovation Program (EIP) Grant to start her research at SUNY Optometry. Founded in 1971 and located in New York City, the State University of New York College of Optometry is a leader in education, research, and patient care, offering the Doctor of Optometry degree as well as MS and PhD degrees in vision science. The College conducts a robust program of basic, translational, and clinical research and has over 65 affiliated clinical training sites as well as an on-site clinic, the University Eye Center. The Optometric Center of New York serves as the College’s affiliated philanthropic foundation securing resources to support the mission of the College. The SUNY College of Optometry is marking its 50th anniversary this year. It remains the only school of optometry in the state and is home to one of the largest optometric outpatient facilities in the U.S. The College will celebrate its 50th at a special in-person Gala in New York on April 14, as VMAIL recently reported where the college will honor the contributions of Dr. David Heath, college president, and recognize the contributions of other researchers, professors, staff, students and alumni. More details about the event and ways to support future students of optometry are posted here.