Aaron W. McGee, PhD, assistant professor at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, has received the Disney Award for Amblyopia Research in the amount of $100,000 from Research to Prevent Blindness. McGee will use the award to investigate approaches for improving recovery from amblyopia, or “lazy eye.”
Established in 2002, the RPB Walt and Lilly Disney Award for Amblyopia Research is intended to stimulate, strengthen and promote research to improve the diagnosis and treatment of amblyopia. The grant is offered to exceptional ophthalmic scientists – MDs or PhDs – with research pursuits of potential significance and promise. McGee is one of two scientists to receive the award in 2016.
“Dr. McGee’s funding from RPB addresses a major cause of blindness in children – namely, amblyopia. The potential to reverse ‘lazy eye’ through medical therapy would be a major advance in curing childhood visual disabilities and improve the quality of life for those affected. His research is exciting and has major potential translational clinical impact,” said Henry Kaplan, MD, chair of the UofL Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences.
Amblyopia occurs in 2 to 3 percent of children and presents with a number of impairments in spatial vision including stereopsis, or depth perception. Permanent visual deficits may result if amblyopia is not treated during a critical period for development of the visual system that ends in early adolescence. The funded research builds on McGee’s previous work investigating how the timing and duration of critical periods in the visual system are determined. McGee will test methods for reversing the loss of depth perception resulting from amblyopia by “re-opening” the critical period in adulthood to enhance the flexibility, or plasticity, of brain circuitry.
“Previously, we discovered that a gene encoding a neuronal receptor is essential for closing the critical period for visual plasticity,” McGee said. “This award from RPB will enable my lab to explore whether neutralizing this receptor will improve depth perception in the murine model of amblyopia.”
McGee moved from the University of Southern California to join the UofL Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and Department of Anatomical Sciences and Neurobiology in September 2016. The goals of his research program are to identify treatments for low vision and aberrant eye dominance by understanding critical periods for neural plasticity and how experience drives changes in brain function.
The Disney Award for Amblyopia Research is a two-year award to help the awardee pursue promising scientific leads and take opportunities for which other funds are not readily available. RPB is the world’s leading voluntary organization supporting eye research. Since it was founded in 1960, RPB has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to support research into blinding eye diseases by medical institutions throughout the United States.