University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine
Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, University of Pennsylvania
Member, Center for Advanced Retinal and Ocular Therapeutics (CAROT), University of Pennsylvania
Dr. Katherine Uyhazi is an ophthalmologist specializing in retinal diseases. Her research focuses on gene and cell replacement therapies in retinal diseases.
Cancer-associated retinopathy (CAR) is a rare condition that occurs when anti-tumor antibodies that circulate in the body reach the eye, where they attack healthy retinal cells. Since the human retina cannot regrow itself after injury, this immune attack on the retina results in permanent death of the rod and cone photoreceptors, the cells in the back of the eye that respond to light and are ultimately responsible for vision. Replacing these cells by transplanting healthy rod and cone cells in the retina therefore represents a promising treatment for patients with CAR.
CAR can occur in connection with various cancers, including gynecologic cancers and those of the lung, breast, colon, pancreas, and prostate. Similar forms of retinal degeneration are associated with the skin cancer, melanoma (melanoma associated retinopathy; MAR).
Decreasing vision can be the first symptom of cancer and is a red flag for primary care physicians who observe this problem in their patients.
With NFCR support, Dr. Uyhazi is conducting experiments on replacing the damaged retina cells with photoreceptor precursor cells, which are young cells that can be transplanted and have the potential to replace mature photoreceptor cells. Gene therapy will follow to supply crucial proteins to support the new cells. She is collaborating with fellow ophthalmologist, Dr. Tomas Aleman to develop gene and cell replacement therapy. Dr. Aleman is an experienced clinician and specialist in retinal imaging and routinely treats adults and children with inherited retinal degenerations and patients with CAR.
The hope is that the combined technologies of gene and cell replacement therapy may lead to the development of new treatments to reverse the devastating vision loss in patients with CAR and MAR.
Katherine Uyhazi, M.D., Ph.D. is an ophthalmologist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Scheie Eye Institute. She is an Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology and directs a research laboratory at Penn’s Center for Advanced Retinal and Ocular Therapeutics (CAROT). Dr. Uyhazi attended The College of New Jersey and obtained her M.D. and Ph.D. from Yale University School of Medicine with her Ph.D. in Cell Biology. She completed her residency in ophthalmology at the Scheie Eye Institute, University of Pennsylvania and completed a fellowship in Medical Retina and Retinal Degeneration at Penn.