Endowed professor gives hope to people suffering from blindness


Zhuo-Hua Pan, Ph.D., is making progress toward reversing blindness as the Edward T. and Ellen K. Dryer Endowed Professor in Vision and Blindness Research at the Kresge Eye Institute. A part of Wayne State University’s School of Medicine, the Kresge Eye Institute is one of the nation’s leading medical centers for the preservation of sight. Pan also holds a joint appointment as a professor of anatomy and cell biology in the School of Medicine.

Pan’s breakthrough therapy for restoring sight could begin human trials next year. It offers hope to the millions of people suffering with blindness caused by age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa—disorders for which there are no cures or effective treatments. Researchers expect that at least functional black-and-white vision will be restored in people treated with Pan’s technique.

Pan first introduced the concept of inserting a light-sensitive protein into the retina to restore vision in blind patients. Along with researchers at Salus University in Pennsylvania, Pan developed a gene-based therapy using the protein channelrhodopsin-2, naturally found in green algae. The protein allows algae to detect where sunlight is shining on a body of water.

In 2011, RetroSense Therapeutics LLC, a Michigan-based biotechnology company, signed a license agreement for Pan’s technique to treat blindness. The company is working to move the treatment from the laboratory to clinical application. RetroSense has been attracting investment and venture capital as the company prepares for human trials.

Pan’s ground-breaking research has been supported in part by the Edward T. and Ellen K. Dryer Endowed Professorship. The Dryers were lifelong residents of Detroit. An executive in the banking industry, Edward suddenly lost his sight while traveling on business. The Edward T. & Ellen K. Dryer Charitable Foundation established the endowed professorship in 2010 to recognize a researcher who is making a significant contribution to artificial vision and restoring vision to the blind.

An endowed professorship provides significant support for a distinguished faculty member and may help fund salary, research, equipment or travel costs. Endowed positions are among the highest academic honors a university can bestow on its faculty. They represent prestige, leadership and responsibility, and are only offered to top scholars who are great teachers and accomplished researchers—such as Dr. Pan.

To learn more about establishing an endowed faculty position, contact the Division of Development and Alumni Affairs at 313-577-2275.

(posted on August 13, 2014)

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