Message from the Chair
2023 is in full swing, and we are pleased to present our Winter edition of the InSight newsletter.
The research spotlight in this issue shines on Assistant Professor Debarshi Mustafi, MD, Ph.D., and Associate Professor Andrew Stacey, MD, highlighting their collaborative efforts to develop genetic testing to confirm a diagnosis of retinoblastoma in neonatal patients. They were awarded a three-year grant from the Gerber Foundation to implement this technology in clinical practice.
We are pleased to introduce our newest faculty member, Assistant Professor Eric Duerr, MD! Dr. Duerr joined us last fall as a comprehensive ophthalmologist at the Eye Institute at Harborview. Learn more about his passion for patient care and academic medicine.
The Karalis Johnson Retina Center at South Lake Union celebrated four years last month. The Center continues to build on donor Angie Karalis Johnson’s vision to create a center where patients can find the finest care available anywhere and participate in research designed to preserve and restore vision lost to retinal disease.
Finally, in our education spotlight, meet the incoming fellows joining us in July 2023, and learn where some of our current fourth-year residents will continue their graduate medical education.
We hope you enjoy our winter update!
Russell Van Gelder, MD, Ph.D., Professor and Boyd K. Bucey Chair, UW Medicine Department of Ophthalmology
Rapid neonatal diagnosis of retinoblastoma awarded a grant by the Gerber Foundation
Drs. Debarshi Mustafi and Andrew Stacey saw an opportunity to merge their research and clinical interests after a discussion in the operating room examining retinoblastoma patients at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Retinoblastoma is a devastating eye cancer that affects about one in 100,000 children. In past times, the mortality rate for this cancer was high, and survivors often lost their eyes to the disease. Retinoblastoma comes in two varieties – inherited and sporadic. While in some cases, a family history will suggest genetic disease, in cases where there is no family history, it is important to determine if the child carries the genetic risk factor in their whole body or just in the affected eye. In the former case, the other eye must be examined under anesthesia frequently, while in sporadic cases, the fellow eye is very unlikely to be affected. The current timeline to obtain genetic testing to confirm a diagnosis of genetic retinoblastoma took weeks to months and necessitated repeated exams under anesthesia for these neonatal patients while the results were pending. A more rapid genetic test result would not only alleviate this but would alter treatment decisions, such as initiating chemotherapy treatments carrying some risk and sometimes deciding whether a cancerous eye needs to be removed.
Drs. Mustafi and Stacey set out to find a solution to this pressing problem. They utilized an emerging technology being developed in the Mustafi and Van Gelder laboratories, termed adaptive sequencing, which allows one to selectively sequence specific segments of the genome to target the retinoblastoma gene. They demonstrated that after the isolation of DNA from the blood from a patient, they could deliver a definitive diagnosis of genetic retinoblastoma in a matter of days. Drs. Mustafi and Stacey recently published their work in Ophthalmic Genetics and were awarded a three-year grant from the Gerber Foundation to implement this technology in clinical practice.
Dr. Debarshi Mustafi
Dr. Andrew Stacey
Patient Care Spotlight:
Meet Eric Duerr, MD: A Talented Physician with a Passion for Teaching
Eric Duerr, MD, assistant professor of ophthalmology and comprehensive ophthalmologist, grew up in Pittsburgh, where he developed a love for basketball while playing on his high school team. His father, a gastroenterologist, was a significant influence on his decision to pursue a career in medicine. Dr. Duerr was recruited to play center on Case Western University’s basketball team, where he competed against some of the best teams in the Division III University Athletic Association conference.
Despite his success on the court, Dr. Duerr's true passion was always in medicine. He studied biology at Case Western and attended medical school at the University of Pittsburgh. There, he met his future wife, Stephanie Chen, MD, who had previously worked as an ophthalmology technician. Today, Dr. Chen is a neurosurgeon and fellow at the University of Washington Department of Neurosurgery.
Dr. Duerr completed his residency and fellowship in glaucoma at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, Florida. He chose academic medicine because he loves serving patients and wants to positively impact the next generation of physicians.
“I truly enjoy working with the residents in our program,” he said. “I believe I learn a great deal from these young doctors.”
We are thrilled to have Dr. Duerr join our team and look forward to seeing the positive impact he will make on our patients and residents in the coming years.
The Duerr family
Karalis Johnson Retina Center marks four years
January marked the fourth anniversary of the opening of the Roger and Angie Karalis Johnson Retina Center. This state-of-the-art clinical and research facility at South Lake Union brings together our outstanding UW retina and uveitis clinicians, the most up-to-date equipment, and our cutting-edge research teams.
The Center fulfilled a long-standing dream of donor Angie Karalis Johnson. Angie, who worked for decades with her late husband, ophthalmologist, and emeritus clinical faculty member Roger Johnson, MD, saw first-hand the terrible impact of blinding retinal disease on patients. The goal of the Center is to create one location where patients can find the finest patient care and participate in research designed to improve outcomes in the future.
Angie and Roger had previously endowed the Roger Johnson Lectureship at Seattle Children’s, which brings top pediatric ophthalmologists to lecture in Seattle. Years later, they endowed the Roger H. Johnson Award for Macular Degeneration. This prize is given to the scientist or clinician who has significantly contributed to the understanding or treatment of age-related macular degeneration.
Macular degeneration is a debilitating condition that affects the macula, a region in the retina responsible for sharp, central vision. People who suffer from it often lose their central vision. According to the National Eye Institute, more than 5.44 million people in the U.S. are projected to have vision loss from age-related macular degeneration by 2050.
“Angie’s gift has been transformative over the last four years,” says Russell Van Gelder, MD, Ph.D., Professor and Boyd K. Bucey Chair. “Thanks to her generosity, we have one of the nation’s most outstanding facilities to care for patients with macular degeneration and other retinal diseases. The center is equipped with state-of-the-art research equipment and staffed by the nation’s best researchers. I anticipate many advances — helping millions of people — will flow from Angie’s remarkable gift.”
Education Spotlight: Announcing the incoming fellows joining us in July 2023
Pediatric Ophthalmology: Jeannette Stallworth is currently completing her ophthalmology residency at the University of California San Francisco.
Oculoplastics: Alexa Van Brummen completed her ophthalmology residency here at the University of Washington and is currently completing a fellowship in pediatric ophthalmology at UW/Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Vitreoretinal Surgery: Nathan Agi is currently completing his ophthalmology residency at NJMS Rutgers Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences.
Uveitis: Yamini Attiku completed her ophthalmology residency at All India Institute of Medical Sciences and is currently completing a Medical Retina fellowship at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, Fla.
We are also excited to share fellowship match results for our UW fourth-year residents graduating this summer.
Alex Legocki will pursue an Oculoplastics Fellowship at Allure Laser Center & Medispa in Seattle.
Grace Su will be pursuing a Cornea Fellowship at UC Irvine.
Philina Yee will be pursuing a Glaucoma Fellowship at UC Irvine.
Shu Feng, MD featured in "BrainWorks" video about vision and the brain for students
Dr. Shu Feng, MD, assistant professor of ophthalmology, recently was featured on BrainWorks, a UW-produced series on the brain for youth hosted by Dr. Eric Chudler. In this episode, viewers get to know their visual system and learn how to keep their eyes in tip-top shape. Viewers will also find out about new technology to help people who are blind or have low vision.