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Video: The 2020 Shaffer Prize for Innovative Glaucoma Research

For her research project “Eliminate to Protect,” Dorota Skowronska-Krawczyk, PhD (University of California, San Diego) was awarded the 2020 Shaffer Prize for Innovative Glaucoma Research.

The Shaffer Prize, presented annually by Glaucoma Research Foundation during their annual Glaucoma 360 Gala, recognizes a researcher whose project best exemplifies the pursuit of innovative ideas in the quest to better understand glaucoma. Dr. Skowronska-Krawczyk talks about her research into early removal of senescent cells in the retina to prevent major retinal ganglion cell death upon elevated intraocular pressure. She also discusses what motivated her to investigate glaucoma, and how glaucoma patients might ultimately benefit from her research.

Video Transcript

Dorota Skowronska-Krawczyk, PhD: My name is Dorota Skowronska-Krawczyk. I'm a researcher at The Viterbi Family Department of Ophthalmology at UC San Diego. And I'm a part of the faculty at the Shiley Eye Institute.

This is an amazing honor for two reasons. First of all, Glaucoma Research Foundation is really aimed to help patients and to fund translational research that can be brought to clinic. And I think it's an amazing honor that my work was recognized this way, because it was exactly what I wanted in this project. The fact that it was recognized makes me think that I'm going the right direction. It gives me additional motivation, and basically, I take it as an obligation to continue this way.

On the personal level, it's also my first prize ever, and I'm extremely happy. And I hope this will just show that I'm very much committed, and it will show in the future that it was the right choice for the Foundation. In our work, we were trying to understand why cells die in the retina even after elevating the intraocular pressure.

And in short what we have shown is that if we remove the first sick cells -- which we call senescent cells because of the mechanism of how they are sick -- if we remove the first senescent cells in the retina, we can actually protect the others which were not yet affected by the disease. This has potentially quite important meaning for the clinic because if we recognize very early the disease and we can remove the very first cells that are already becoming senescent, we may be able to protect the retina and the vision.

Yes, our studies are applicable for the cases where the loss of vision is still happening even after treatment with the drugs lowering the IOP. And in this sense, it has a quite important possibility to be combined with other therapies. Also, we have to remember about the non-tension glaucoma and other type of glaucomas which are almost not treatable. So our work now is trying to find out whether the same mechanism applies to the other type of glaucomas.

How did you get started in glaucoma research?

To start in glaucoma research was basically a decision, my scientific decision. I was, for many years, involved in studying development of retina and development of retinal ganglion cells themselves. And it was a very fascinating project and fascinating subject. And as you know, it's very important for retina regeneration and so on. But at a certain point, I understood that my background in the transcription regulation gene expression and really molecular mechanisms could be used in a very important way. I actually think it's very important to apply basic research into the translational approaches.

So it was basically a decision. I recognized that there is a need. I recognized that there's an opportunity. I started collaborating with some colleagues. And yes, this is how I started to be involved in glaucoma. I decided to be a researcher when I was 10 years old. That was my first job, I remember ever. I always wanted to be a scientist. I loved the biology. I loved genetics. And I developed then a very huge interest in molecular biology. And basically with time, it only was the question, what I will focus on and where I will study, what I will do. I always knew I wanted to be a researcher.

I will not over exaggerate if I say that this grant from Glaucoma Research Foundation was instrumental for these studies. It was my first grant and it allowed me basically to start certain studies, certain parts of the studies which otherwise I wouldn't have funds. Also, it allowed me to put one of my postdocs partially on this project so she could actually continue working.

I am extremely grateful to Glaucoma Research Foundation. It gave me the push, it gave me motivation, and of course funds. And as an outcome, the paper has been published in the February issue of Aging Cell based on the proposal that I submitted two years ago. I'm absolutely so happy. It's really amazing. And then in the meantime, I got to know about this Prize, which was like... it's like publication already itself is a prize. So this kind of recognition, I take it as more like a credit for the future; I will try to do my best.

End transcript

Last reviewed on March 05, 2020

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