Research to Prevent Blindness

Shaping a Life in Research

RPB Grant Recipient Natalie Afshari, MD

Professor Natalie Afshari

"I know I speak for every clinician-scientist who has received one of RPB's Career Development Awards when I say that RPB shaped my life and enhanced my career," says , Professor of Ophthalmology, and Chief of Cornea and Refractive Surgery at the University of California San Diego, Shiley Eye Center. Today, Dr. Afshari is an accomplished research scientist and clinician, widely sought by both patients and colleagues for her skills in cataract surgery, LASIK, complex corneal transplantations and other sophisticated treatments for diseases of the cornea. She has received grant support to study corneal disorders, and she is active in teaching and training the next generation of ophthalmologists.

"Within academic medicine, it is becoming more difficult to protect time for research," says Afshari. "One needs to see patients, train the next generation of physicians and perform research to reduce the burden of disease. An RPB grant allows you to be an intellectual, to be creative. It gives you the valuable time to think, to discover and to develop your talent."

The RPB Career Development Award is primarily intended as bridge funding for early-career scientists emerging from postdoctoral training who want to eventually obtain larger, federal grants.

"At that stage, you are too young to have an NIH grant—and, at the same time, you don't have enough preliminary data to use in an application," says Afshari. "The RPB grant literally allowed me to become a physician-scientist. It helped me grow by providing the time and funding to produce early data for an NIH grant. I was also blessed to have worked with two chairmen who encourage clinician-scientists.

"RPB grants are fabulous, because you can pursue untested ideas. In my case, I conducted multiple projects and published over 30 papers with that award. My primary investigation was on Fuchs endothelial corneal dystrophy [an inherited, progressive degeneration of the front of the eye that can cause vision loss]. One of my additional projects was to develop a potential new anti-fungal treatment for corneal infections that may cause blindness.

"The antifungals that are FDA-approved are too expensive for people in developing countries. There is a medicine used for amoebic infections of the eye. It's made from—you will not believe this—diluted pool cleaner and is well tolerated. Patients treated with it also show improvement in their fungal infection. So we tested it in the lab, and found that it was safe and effective.

"Around the world, doctors can dilute this pool cleaner to a safe strength, and treat fungal infections of the eye for less than ten cents per application. Surprising and great vision-saving discoveries can come from RPB support."


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