School of Medicine

Wayne State University School of Medicine

Kresge Eye Institute researchers win two Young Investigator awards from ophthalmology association

Postdoctoral fellow Pawan Kumar Singh, Ph.D., sitting, and graduate student Deepa Talreja work with Ashok Kumar, Ph.D., left, assistant professor of ophthalmology and anatomy and cell biology at the Wayne State University School of Medicine and KEI.

Postdoctoral fellow Pawan Kumar Singh, Ph.D., sitting, and graduate student Deepa Talreja work with Ashok Kumar, Ph.D., left, assistant professor of ophthalmology and anatomy and cell biology at the Wayne State University School of Medicine and KEI.

Two researchers at the Kresge Eye Institute were selected to receive first and second place in the Dr. Raniyah Ramadan Foundation Young Investigator Award in Microbiology.

Postdoctoral fellow Pawan Kumar Singh, Ph.D., and graduate student Deepa Talreja, are working in the laboratory of Ashok Kumar, Ph.D., assistant professor of ophthalmology and anatomy and cell biology at the Wayne State University School of Medicine and KEI.

The award is given to trainees to recognize the two best ocular microbiology poster or paper presentations at the annual meeting of the Association for Research and Vision in Ophthalmology, the world’s largest and most respected eye and vision research organization.

“We could not believe that both the prizes were awarded to our laboratory because this is a very rare event in the history of this award,” Dr. Kumar said. “We are highly honored to receive these prizes and acknowledge the generous donation from Dr. Ramadan’s family. We also thank the scientific review panel’s enthusiasm for our research endeavors.”

The awards will be presented at ARVO’s next annual meeting, set for May 4-8, 2014, in Orlando, Fla.

Dr. Singh received first place for his oral presentation titled “Therapeutic use of chimeric bacteriophage (phage) endolysins in staphylococcal endophthalmitis." The prize includes $500 and a traveling plaque with his and Dr. Kumar’s name inscribed.  

“The emphasis of my research project is to develop an effective bacteriophage lytic enzyme-based antimicrobial therapy for the treatment of endophthalmitis, targeting Staphylococcus(S) aureus, the bacterium that causes severe retinal damage and vision loss. Our preliminary studies have shown that a chimeric lysin containing multiple catalytic domains and cell wall binding domains effectively eradicated S. aureus in mouse eyes,” Dr. Singh said. “I am thankful to my mentor Dr. Kumar for his great enthusiastic, unconditional support and for providing me all the facilities to carry out this award-winning research. I would also like to acknowledge Dr. David Donovan of the United States Department of Agriculture for his collaboration.”

Deepa Talreja received the second place prize and $250 for her poster presentation “Antibiotic resistance and molecular characterization of ocular isolates of Acinetobacter baumannii.”

“A. baumannii is an emerging nosocomial pathogen and is reported to cause eye infections, including endophthalmitis. However, its pathogenesis in ocular infection is not known. This was the focus of my project, which is presently under review with a peer-reviewed journal,” Talreja said. “I am thankful to my mentors Dr. Kumar and Satish Walia, Ph.D., at Oakland University, for their constant encouragement and support. I greatly appreciate Arik Dvir, Ph.D., chair of biological sciences at OU, for providing financial support, and Keith Kaye, M.D., M.P.H., professor of medicine, for providing access to ocular A. baumannii isolates.”    

Dr. Kumar’s lab studies the vision-threatening eye infection endophthalmitis, a rare but serious complication of intraocular surgeries that frequently leads to vision loss in some patients. According to published reports, approximately three out of 1,000 patients develop bacterial endophthalmitis, notably after cataract surgery, a common procedure performed in older people. On average, more than 2.5 million cataract surgeries are performed in the United States annually.

“In addition to cataract surgery, the incidence of endophthalmitis is likely to grow in the coming years due to increasing use of multiple intravitreal injections for the treatment of age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinal diseases," Dr. Kumar said. “The current treatment options for endophthalmitis involve intravitreal injections of antibiotics, which works perfectly against the sensitive bacterial strains but often fails against resistant bugs. Thus, there is a need for the development of new therapies and treatments."

The main goal of this research is to determine how antibiotic resistance influences the pathogenesis of the bacteria and to develop phage lysin based antimicrobial therapy, he added.

With the emergence of antibiotic-resistant staphylococcus strains worldwide, Dr. Kumar’s emphasis on developing new alternatives such as chimeric phage endolysin are of paramount importance to treat resistant infection.

“Inherently, southeast Michigan is the land of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and in 2002 we reported the first case of vancomycin-resistant S. aureus in the U.S. in the metropolitan Detroit area,” said Marcus Zervos, M.D., chief of infectious diseases at Henry Ford Hospital and a world-renowned expert on antibiotic resistance in S. aureus.

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