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CU Department of Ophthalmology Top Stories of 2023

CU Department of Ophthalmology Top Stories of 2023

Revisit some of the year’s most memorable moments, impactful research, and patient stories from Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Eye Center faculty, researchers, and trainees.

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Written by Kara Mason on December 15, 2023

It’s been another remarkable year full of noteworthy research, impressive innovation, and inspiring patient success stories for the Department of Ophthalmology.

The communications staff in the University of Colorado School of Medicine Dean’s Office covered a variety of stories from the Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Eye Center that captured the exceptional care, effort, and time faculty members, research staff, and trainees put in each day.

These are the top stories from 2023.

IND FDA approval 8.28.23

CU Ophthalmologists Administer Novel Treatment for Single Patient Facing Rare Genetic Condition

One of the most significant feats in the department this year centered around Grace Hoyt, who friends, family, and doctors call “Amazing Gracie.” The 13-year-old received the first treatment designed specifically to slow her vision loss associated with posterior column ataxia with retinitis pigmentosa (PCARP), a rare genetic condition that affects vision and the nervous system.

The treatment, given with permission from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as an investigational new drug, was the first start-to-finish personalized medication given at Children’s Hospital Colorado developed in partnership with the CU Department of Ophthalmology.

Emily McCourt, MD, associate professor and the Ponzio Family Chair for Pediatric Ophthalmology, and Marc Mathias, MD, associate professor of ophthalmology and retina specialist at the Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Eye Center, showed us exactly how they were able to get Grace her own unique treatment. 

Cornea transplant research 1-17-23

Improved Treatment Technique for Fuchs’ Dystrophy Shows Promise

Karen Christopher, MD, assistant professor of ophthalmology, shared exciting news early this year about a newer technique for preparing corneal tissue for transplantation.

Partial-thickness corneal transplantation, or Descemet’s membrane endothelial keratoplasty (DMEK), has emerged as an effective treatment for patients with Fuchs’ dystrophy, a condition in which endothelial cells – which line the inner layer of the cornea – die off.

“It’s a great procedure because it has wonderful visual outcome and a much lower risk of transplant problems down the road compared with older transplant techniques,” said Christopher, who led a study on the technique. 

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How Hormones May Be Affecting Your Eyes

Hormone fluctuations can be responsible for many changes in the body, including in the eyes. Sophie Liao, MD, Robert H. Bell Endowed Chair and associate professor of ophthalmology, explained what hormones are at play in relation to ocular health.

Liao, who is also associate chief medical officer of ambulatory services for UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, offered examples of ways people may experience hormone-related eye issues, from thyroid related orbital disease to more intense dry eye symptoms, and when to seek out related medical care.

SpyGlass Pharma blog

Drug Delivery Platform Developed by CU Ophthalmologist Shows Promise for Glaucoma Patients

This year showcased the department’s dedication to innovation. Malik Y. Kahook, MD, professor of ophthalmology, announced in February that a new drug delivery platform he originally developed at the Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Eye Center saw promising results after six months of in-human study.

The device, called SpyGlass, is injected into the eye’s capsular bag at the time of cataract surgery and releases consistent glaucoma medication for up to three years, targeting intraocular pressure (IOP) lowering and allowing patients to experience fewer side effects common with daily topical eye drops.

The coming year will bring more data about the device, which Kahook said may be an answer to current compromises that occur with eye drops.

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Stevens-Johnson Syndrome Survivor Set to Attend CU School of Medicine After Receiving Pioneering Treatment

Some inspiring stories can continue years after they originate.

Will Osier was 8 years old when CU ophthalmologist Darren Gregory, MD, performed an innovative treatment to save his vision from the side effects of Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS), a rare but potentially devastating disorder that causes painful skin blisters all over the body, including the surface of the eyes and backs of the eyelids.

This year, more than a decade after Osier received the pioneering treatment, he began his journey as a student at the CU School of Medicine. Osier credits Gregory and his incredible care as a reason why he’s seeking a career in medicine.

“It highlighted the power a really amazing physician can have on a patient’s life,” Osier told us.

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All Eyes on Apple Vision Pro and Virtual Reality Headsets

This year brought one big tech announcement that left many wondering how it would impact ocular health. Apple’s newest product addition, Vision Pro, utilizes an eye-tracking system to “seamlessly blend digital content with the physical world.”

How does it work and what does that mean for users’ vision and eye health? Malik Kahook, MD, who is also the Slater Family Endowed Chair in Ophthalmology and studies the intersection of artificial intelligence and vision, explained the science behind the forthcoming device and what to expect from virtual reality headsets in the future.


Outlining Cosmetics’ Impact on Eye Health

Cosmetics is a billion-dollar industry that can have major impacts on health, especially eye health.

In a systematic review produced by the Tear Film & Ocular Surface Society (TFOS), CU ophthalmology assistant research professor Alison Suhsun Liu, MD, PhD, showed us what research is currently available on cosmetics and eye health and how popular products ranging from serums to eye lash extensions can affect the ocular surface.

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Retinoblastoma Survivor Looks to Skies with Help from CU Ophthalmologist

Associate professor Scott Oliver, MD, who directs the eye cancer program and is the chief of retina services at the Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Eye Center, has treated many children with retinoblastoma, but none quite like Jack Schaef, who was diagnosed with the rare form of eye cancer after a tumor ruptured inside his eye last summer when he did a bellyflop at a pool.

“Everything about Jack’s case is out of the ordinary,” Oliver recalled this summer.

Oliver and his team saved Jack’s eye and restored excellent vision, which Jack will need to fulfill his dream to become a pilot. Jack, his mom, and Oliver, shared their experience through treatment and Jack’s incredible journey.

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CU Ophthalmology Celebrates 2023 Graduates

Six fellows and six residents graduated from the department this year. They spent their time with the department focusing on patients, honing their skills, and serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This class, like so many of the classes before them, is quite exceptional,” said Naresh Mandava, MD, department chair and Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Endowed Chair in Retinal Diseases. He and other faculty members praised the graduates and their hard work.

We dived into what’s next for the dozen residents and fellows and the next class joining the department.

Climate change and eyes 1-23-23

Is Climate Change Harming Your Eyes?

The effects of climate change are everywhere, even in the eyes. Researchers in the department explained to us early this year some environmental factors that are impacting ocular health — and some of them might not be so obvious.

One example ophthalmologists highlighted is small particulate matter in the air that can cause cardiovascular problems, in turn leading to a possible increase in macular degeneration and glaucoma in specific geographic areas. Faculty members helped review more than 2,000 studies in a global review published in Reviews on Environmental Health that focused on the effects of climate change and air pollution on eye health.

They say it’s important for clinicians to be aware of the impact mankind has on the environment, because it has an effect on us.