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Ophthalmology

Discover what’s possible. Browse these features to find out more about the impact of University of Minnesota research, education, and care—and how you can help.

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As poets and others have observed, the eye is the window of the soul. But for a long time, medicine has also known that our eyes provide more than an aperture into our spiritual state of being. They are also a window that allows doctors and researchers to peer into the state of our physical and mental well-being.

Macular degeneration experts Erik van Kuijk, M.D., Ph.D., and Deborah Ferrington, Ph.D., are part of the University team charged with finding a cure for the debilitating eye disease.

A $10 million gift supports innovative research in the University of Minnesota's Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Neurosciences and in its Stem Cell Institute.

Erik van Kuijk, M.D., Ph.D., marks his first anniversary as head of the newly named Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Neurosciences. (Photo: Scott Streble)

Consider the mind-bending truth about the human eye: with an estimated 2 million working parts that allow us to absorb images of the world around us in fractions of a second, the intricate mechanism is second only to the brain itself in complexity.

When things go wrong, however, the impact on a human life can range from annoying to devastating, with total blindness the ultimate insult. But scientists in the University of Minnesota’s recently renamed Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Neurosciences (OVNS) take up the fight daily, battling their way from questions and problems to answers and treatments.

C. Gail Summers, M.D., is leading the first-ever drug trial aimed at improving vision for children who have albinism. (Photo: Jim Bovin)

There are top-notch researchers, and there are first-rate clinicians. But few doctors have both the scientific chops and the extraordinary bedside manner of pediatric ophthalmologist C. Gail Summers, M.D., says donor Michael Cohen.

Cohen's in a position to know; he's a physician himself. The Texas pathologist and his wife, Sandra Cohen, have made two $10,000 gifts to advance Summers's work. Inspired by the superlative care she's given their 15-year-old son, Matthew, the gifts are helping to support her current clinical trial, a study exploring a possible treatment for vision problems associated with albinism.

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Fredericus (Erik) van Kuijk, M.D., Ph.D., on October 1 began his new duties as head of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

An expert in early diagnosis and nutritional and pharmacological therapies for age-related macular degeneration (AMD), van Kuijk earned both his M.D. and Ph.D. (biochemistry) from the University of Nijmegen, the Netherlands. His research has led to new approaches to preventing the progression of AMD.

Six-year-old Kira Rogers, with her parents, Michele and Mike, received sight-preserving medical treatment at the University of Minnesota. (Photo: Jason Wachter)

Six-year-old Kira Rogers doesn't know much about the Minnesota Lions, but the Lions' 50-year partnership with the University was intended to help children just like her.

A month after Kira was born, her mother, Michele, noticed something wrong with Kira’s right eye. "Her eyelid looked red. The next day it looked puffier. Each day it looked a little puffier," she says.

Jay Krachmer, M.D., head of the department of Ophthalmology; Patty Porter, Minnesota Medical Foundation vice president of development; Lions member Lynn Farley; and Richard Reger, Minnesota Lions Eye Bank, Inc., board chair. (Photo by Tim Rummelhoff)

MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (July 31, 2010)—Minnesota Lions Eye Bank, Inc., board chair Richard J. Reger presented a $3 million check, representing a pledge to the University of Minnesota to establish the Minnesota Lions Fund to Prevent Blindness in Infants and Children.

The gift, made through the Minnesota Medical Foundation, will advance research, education and care in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

Thumbnail image for Lynn Hoke, F.N.P., reviews test results with Rasmussen Center patient Mike Nordberg, while Natalia Florea, M.D., examines an eye scan. (Photo: Richard Anderson)

University researchers led by Michael Mauer, M.D., found that antihypertensive medications commonly used to treat high blood pressure also slow the progression of eye damage in people with type 1 diabetes. They found that the antihypertensives losartan and enalapril slowed the progression of eye damage by more than 65 percent in type 1 diabetics involved in the study.

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In 1991, Arne Divine began losing his sight because of ischemic optic neuropathy (ION), caused by an obstruction of the blood flowing to his optic nerve. The condition ultimately robbed him of nearly half of his vision and has had a profound impact on his life.

"You lose your independence when you have impaired vision," says Divine, who is 80 years old.

Renzo Zaldivar, M.D. | Ophthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery

Ophthalmology residents Ophthalmology fellows...

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Blindness is second only to cancer when it comes to health conditions people fear most, according to a Gallup poll.

So it may come as a surprise that funding for eye research was practically nonexistent until the organization Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) was founded in 1960. Before that,ophthalmology was a second-tier medical specialty in the United States. Eye care was relegated to the division of surgery in most medical schools, and few basic scientists conducted research on eyes and vision.

Research by Linda McLoon, Ph.D., has shown that retinal ganglion cells previously thought to be beyond rescue might be repairable.

Research by Linda McLoon, Ph.D., has shown that retinal ganglion cells previously thought to be beyond rescue might be repairable.

Many types of eye injuries can cause irreversible damage and vision loss. For example, when the eye's retina and optic nerve are deprived of oxygen, the consensus among clinicians is that nothing can be done to restore the patient's vision if lost.

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Resident education in the Department of Ophthalmology made a huge leap forward in March with the opening of a new microsurgery practice lab.

The lab is now equipped with four stations, each outfitted with an operating microscope that is wired to its own video monitor. Each resident also receives a set of microsurgical instruments to use at practice sessions throughout his or her training.

Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Ph.D., talks with Linda Block about her improved vision after receiving an artificial cornea.

Treatments that are effective in 90 percent of patients are greeted with great acclaim, as they should be. But what happens when you're in the remaining 10 percent who can't be helped?

Welcome to Linda Block's world. Block has keratoconus, a degenerative disease of the cornea that can cause blurring, distorted vision, and sensitivity to light. In its early stages, the condition can be treated with glasses or special contact lenses. But in more severe cases, like Block's, a corneal transplant may be needed to fix the problem.

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Suzanne Mundhenke's first few years of life were ripe with drama.

She was born 12 weeks premature. Under her right eye, she had a large growth called a capillary hemangioma—a fast-growing noncancerous tumor, also known as a strawberry hemangioma. Very soon it began to grow over her eye, obstructing her vision and affecting the eye's development.

Chuck Semrow

Chuck Semrow joined the Department of Ophthalmology's team in December as a senior development officer with the Minnesota Medical Foundation (MMF), which raises money for healthrelated research, education, and service at the University of Minnesota.

Taylor Kahnke, here at his college graduation, is now a medical student.

When Taylor Kahnke's parents gave him a microscope for his eighth birthday, a whole new world was revealed to him. He used his microscope to look at everything he could lay his hands on— rocks, hair, even a drop of his dad's blood.

Kahnke has always had to look at things more carefully than most people. Diagnosed with ocular albinism as a baby, he has 20/80 vision and also nystagmus (involuntary to-and-fro eye movement) and astigmatism (a slight abnormality in the curvature of the eye's surface).

Erika Shane is grateful for the team approach to care at the University’s Center for Thyroid Eye Disease.

People with thyroid eye disease can experience many troubling complications, including protruding eyes, eye pressure or pain, and eyelids that are swollen or don't close completely. Left untreated, a person with this disease could suffer permanent vision loss.

To prevent that from happening, some people with thyroid eye disease have orbital decompression surgery to improve their vision and allow their eyes to return to a more normal position, followed by surgery to treat double vision due to strabismus (misaligned eyes) and then eyelid surgery.

As she determines the best treatment for patient Lauren Proffitt, Jill Anderson, M.D., draws upon her own experience and the experience of ophthalmologists across the continent through the PEDIG database.

Treating children with eye diseases is a rewarding experience for pediatric ophthalmologists. But depending on the disease, it can be difficult to know exactly which treatment will be most successful.

At times like this, it helps to know which treatments have worked best for other children with the same condition.

Deborah Ferrington, Ph.D. (foreground), reviews research results with graduate students Stacy Hussong (left) and Pabalu Karunadharma.

p>Are we on the verge of an epidemic of vision loss?

Considering the large number of baby boomers and the prevalence of macular degeneration among older adults‚ it's possible. As a result‚ a sense of urgency propels research in the lab headed by Deborah Ferrington, Ph.D., an associate professor in the University of Minnesota Departments of Ophthalmology and Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Biophysics.

At the Visual Rehabilitation Center, occupational therapist Mary Ruff helps people adapt to their reduced vision.

Limited peripheral vision, which often occurs in people with glaucoma, makes it difficult to see someone approaching from the side or objects such as keys on a table. But often before noticing a difference in their eyesight, people with reduced peripheral vision may begin to feel anxious in unfamiliar places, seem to be misplacing things more frequently, and feel more forgetful in general.

Experts at the Visual Rehabilitation Center at the University of Minnesota can help people understand why these changes may be happening and offer devices and strategies for coping with them. "Through understanding comes insight and the ability to compensate," says Mary Ruff, an occupational therapist at the center.

Ophthalmologist Erick Bothun, M.D., examines pediatric glaucoma patient Benjamin Kempf’s eyes.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota are working to improve that statistic.

The University's Department of Ophthalmology has a large team of specialists who treat people with glaucoma and conduct research involving the many types of glaucoma. Associate professor Martha Wright, M.D., is director of the department's glaucoma service.Wright works with professor Alana Grajewski, M.D., and associate professor Mary Lawrence, M.D., M.P.H., to diagnose and manage glaucoma in adults. Many of the people they treat need advanced subspecialty care because their previous treatments have failed.

Ruth Hanold

Ruth Hanold has many reasons for supporting eye research at the University of Minnesota. She has had macular degeneration in both eyes for a decade and more recently was diagnosed with glaucoma and cataracts. The active 93-year-old moved to a retirement community four years ago when her eyesight became so poor that she could no longer drive.

But with some adaptive tools, Hanold still does many of the things she used to do—it just takes longer now, she says.

Thumbnail image for Patient Vera Velasquez listens to Martha Wright, M.D., explain glaucoma surgery using a model of the eye.

Glaucoma is a group of diseases affecting the eye's optic nerve, a cable that transmits visual information from the eye to the brain.

Glaucoma is caused by increased pressure inside the eye that damages the optic nerve, leading to vision loss and blindness.

Mildred Giordano

It was 40 years ago when Mildred Giordano first made the 320-mile drive from her home in South Dakota to the University of Minnesota. She repeated the trip countless times over the years, by car and by plane, seeking treatment at the University's Department of Ophthalmology for her deteriorating vision.

Giordano had been plagued by cold sores, an affliction caused by the herpes simplex virus, since her high school days. In rare instances, the herpes simplex virus also can attack the eyes and lead to corneal infection, which can result in scarring and loss of vision—even blindness in some cases.

Todd Klesert, M.D., Ph.D., says the department’s new technology will help physicians better understand and treat eye conditions.

The Department of Ophthalmology recently acquired two new pieces of equipment. Both are state-of-the-art‚ providing information that is light years beyond what previous tools could provide.

The confocal microscope and the Spectralis™ HRA+OCT‚ also known as the Heidelberg Spectralis‚ are currently being used in only a few ophthalmology centers around the country‚ and the University of Minnesota is one of them.

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The 90 percent to 95 percent success rate for corneal transplantation in the United States might sound impressive, but Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Ph.D., isn't satisfied.

Certain high-risk patients still face transplant rejection and related problems, and Kaufman hopes his research can help these patients.

Linda McLoon, Ph.D., and Michael Lee, M.D., are experimenting with intranasal delivery of medication directly to an injured optic nerve.

When they're not seeing patients or teaching tomorrow's ophthalmologists, our faculty members are involved in research aimed at reducing the impact eye diseases and disorders will have on future generations. Here are a few highlights of their current research.

University of Minnesota ophthalmology residents and faculty work closely together. Here, resident Peter Mellema, M.D. (right), consults with attending physician Joseph Terry, M.D.

Motivated. Professional. Intelligent. Team players. These are the qualities that University of Minnesota ophthalmology residency program director Martha Wright, M.D., looks for in prospective residents.

"We want people whom you would want for your doctor," she says.

The University's ophthalmology residency program continues to attract a talented group of applicants. "There is stiff competition," says Wright, who is also an associate professor in the Department of Ophthalmology. "We get more than 200 applications for just four spots each year. Most of the people who apply are very bright."

Sunscreen and sunglasses help protect Sara and Riley Wheaton’s skin and eyes when they’re outside. Their parents, Michele Moylan and David Wheaton, are grateful for the information and empathetic care University experts have given them.

The morning after their son was born nine years ago, Michele Moylan and David Wheaton learned that little Riley had albinism.

It wasn't apparent to them right away. In fact, they had no idea Riley had albinism until their pediatrician came to the hospital to do a standard baby check the next day and noticed that Riley had white eyelashes and no pigment in his eyes.

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Upgrades to an ophthalmology practice laboratory will have both personal and professional meaning to residents in the Department of Ophthalmology.

Over the last several months, the department has received donations in memory of David P. Pond, M.D., a first-year ophthalmology resident. At the time of his death last June, many friends and colleagues in the ophthalmic community expressed interest in contributing to a memorial fund for David. Department leaders have discussed a number of ways to honor his memory with his widow, Ausra Pond, M.D., who joined the department as a first-year resident last fall.

Thumbnail image for Medical student Amanda Noska (left) and the doctors at GHESKIO, a free HIV/AIDS clinic in Haiti. (Photo: Amanda Noska)

Before an old army acquaintance asked him to volunteer his medical services abroad, Philip Gardner, M.D., hadn't given much thought to doing international humanitarian work. But because of his friend's request, Gardner traveled to Guatemala in 1994. And he's been hooked ever since on helping others in developing countries.

An alumnus of the Department of Ophthalmology's residency program, Gardner has taken about 10 two-week volunteer trips to Nuevo Progreso, Guatemala, over the last decade. He joins a team of volun- teer surgeons from the United States and Canada, performing procedures that are generally not available to many people in third-world countries.

Thumbnail image for Jay Krachmer, M.D., head of the department of Ophthalmology; Patty Porter, Minnesota Medical Foundation vice president of development; Lions member Lynn Farley; and Richard Reger, Minnesota Lions Eye Bank, Inc., board chair. (Photo by

A sophisticated new machine called a multifocal electroretinogram (ERG) was recently donated to the Department of Ophthalmology by the Minnesota Lions. Only a few dozen of these machines exist nationwide, and research is underway at the University of Minnesota and other institutions to determine their potential applications.

The concept behind the multifocal ERG is this: When a retina is stimulated by light, it turns that light into electrical signals that the brain reads. The multifocal ERG measures electrical signals after shining 103 different lights across a large part of the retina's surface, providing a precise picture of how each portion and layer of the retina is functioning.

Daily tasks such as paying the bills can be difficult for people with compromised vision. Here, occupational therapist Mary Ruff helps Joan Dombrowski with large-print checks and a large-print check register.

For Jeff Bohman, the difference in his life seems like night and day.

An autoimmune disorder called Sjögren's syndrome was causing Bohman's vision to worsen, and the change made him feel isolated. But now, months after visiting the University of Minnesota's Low Vision Center, he finds he can once again do many of the things he's always enjoyed.

Donald Doughman, M.D.

The contributions Donald Doughman, M.D., made to corneal tissue preservation more than 30 years ago have had a long-lasting impact on corneal transplant surgery.

When he arrived at the University in 1972, tissue from donated corneas were transplanted within 24 hours, which meant that patients had to be near a phone at all times with their bags packed, and surgeons often had to get up in the middle of the night to perform transplant operations, says Doughman, professor of ophthalmology and medical director of the Minnesota Lions Eye Bank. "Corneal transplants were done on an emergency—not an elective—basis," he says.

Thumbnail image for Class of 2000 alumni Julie Anderson, M.D., Peter Lund, M.D., Shannon Parkos, M.D., and Eric Haug, M.D., share a smile. (Photo: Tim Rummelhoff)

The Department of Ophthalmology celebrated accomplishments by faculty, alumni, and volunteers in advocating for and supporting visual health and eye research at its 2006 Annual Banquet. The event, cohosted by the department and the Minnesota Medical Foundation, was held on Wednesday, October 18, 20{06, at the McNamara Alumni Center.

Three individuals were honored for their contributions to the Department of Ophthalmology:

Thumbnail image for Donald Doughman, M.D.

Donald Doughman, M.D., is a compassionate caregiver and teacher and a well-respected researcher. He has given exceptional care to his patients, trained new ophthalmologists, and conducted leading-edge eye research here for more than 30 years.

Doughman's enthusiasm for cornea research, care, and education is clear to all who know him. He tirelessly strives to give his best to his patients, students, and colleagues. Please consider honoring Doughman's contributions to the Department of Ophthalmology with a gift to the Doughman Cornea Research and Education Fund.

Thumbnail image for Daniel Vallera, Ph.D., received funding to move new drugs he engineered into clinical trials.

The ripple effects from such findings can be small, such as adjusting a dosage of medicine, or large, such as making a groundbreaking advancement in a surgical procedure. The individuals helped by study findings could be the patient's child or grandchild—or a stranger on the other side of the world.

A successful study requires more than dedicated physicians and willing patients. It also takes a study coordinator, whose role includes working closely with the research team and the principal investigator (the physician who heads up the study) and serving as the primary contact for the patient and patient's family. The study coordinator is crucial to the success of every clinical study.

Timothy Olsen, M.D.

With the aging population, research into macular degeneration and other diseases of the retina has never been more important.With that in mind, Timothy Olsen, M.D., formed a directors group to help further such research.

A few times a year, Olsen meets with about a dozen individuals in the retinal service directors group to discuss his research and to enlist their help with Fundraising and development.

Research is an expensive endeavor, so the first thing any research project needs is funding. "Once funding for a project is in place, we can concentrate on the science," says Olsen, an associate professor and director of retina and the Minnesota Lions Macular Degeneration Center.

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Thanks to two area ophthalmologists, the department's Louise Gruber Library has reached out to libraries around the world with shipments of professional books.

The Department of Ophthalmology's library received two professional book collections in recent years, the first from Twin Cities ophthalmologist Harry Friedman, M.D. His collection was comprised of "books that were central to his life and to his medical practice," says Ruth Alliband, the department's administrative aide. A collection of his bound journals and a set of Duke-Elder's System of Ophthalmology were sent to the National Eye Hospital in Hanoi, Vietnam.

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A one-day cataract surgery training course for ophthalmology residents took place at the College of Veterinary Medicine in January. The Medical School residents performed phacoemulsification, an advanced cataract surgery technique that requires a very small incision in the cornea. The procedure was performed on rabbit eyes, the animal eyes that are most similar to human eyes in dimension. (Healthy human eyes are reserved for transplants in most cases.)

The training course is an annual event, one that residents must complete before performing cataract surgery on a human patient.

Andrew Harrison, M.D.

When Linda Williams walked into the clinic for her first appointment with Andrew Harrison, M.D., she had crossed, protruding eyes, and her eyelids couldn't close completely. She was miserable and in desperate need of help.

A couple of years earlier, after the birth of her second child,Williams had been diagnosed with Graves' disease, a hyperthyroid disorder associated with anxiety, high energy, sudden weight loss, and difficulty sleeping. It eventually affects the eyes in about half of the patients with the disease, but only 5 percent of those patients require treatment for their symptoms.Williams was one of them.

Thumbnail image for Minnesota’s Future Doctors program participants Fatuma Omer and Shukri Guled watch as Anna Shakil, M.D., examines patient Carol Lovejoy at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview. As part of their program experience, stu

The Mayo Clinic has begun sending a third-year ophthalmology resident to the University of Minnesota Department of Ophthalmology's Minneapolis VA Medical Center (VAMC) rotation. This rotation has been uniformly well received by Mayo residents who value the quality and diversity of training at the VAMC.

The Minneapolis VAMC rotation currently has three third-year residents: two from the University of Minnesota and one from the University of North Carolina. Please join us in welcoming the first Mayo Clinic residents to our program.


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