Professor Robert W. Williams Receives Prestigious Stein Award from Research to Prevent Blindness to Fund Innovative Glaucoma Research


faculty photoGlaucoma is a leading cause of irreversible blindness in the United States and globally. Currently, there is no cure for the disease, and once vision is lost, it cannot be regained.

However, Robert. W. Williams, PhD, chair of the Department of Genetics, Genomics and Informatics at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), has received a Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) Stein Innovation Award for research into molecular activity in the retina that initiates glaucoma.

As Dr. Williams explains in this recent television news interview, his aim is to identify genetic markers for glaucoma susceptibility in the cells that connect the eye to the brain (retinal ganglion cells). These cells are the most susceptible to high pressure in the eye that results in their death, and over time, in blindness.

Dr. Williams was nominated for this prestigious award by the UTHSC Department of Ophthalmology, with which he collaborates as a member of the Hamilton Eye Institute's Center for Vision Research. The award provides funding to basic scientists actively engaged in research in collaboration with a department of ophthalmology with the goal of understanding the visual system and the diseases that affect its function.

"Dr. Rob Williams is a brilliant scientist and a leader in genomics and bioinformatics," said Barrett Haik, MD, FACS, Hamilton Professor of Ophthalmology and director of the Hamilton Eye Institute at UTHSC. "His research into the cellular and genomic processes involved in glaucomatous tissue damage has the potential to answer crucial questions that could revolutionize the way millions of glaucoma patients are treated. He is one of only four remarkable individuals to receive the Stein Innovation Award, the largest source of flexible funding available to bring new ideas into vision science."

Dr. Williams said he is grateful to receive the award. "I have a long history in vision research," he said. "I tend to do more genetics now in a broad context. But this grant brings me back to my core area of expertise."

Research at the Hamilton Eye Institute's Center for Vision Research is funded in part by an unrestricted grant from RPB, the world's leading voluntary organization supporting eye research. Since RPB was founded in 1960, it has channeled hundreds of millions of dollars to medical institutions for research into the causes, treatment and prevention of blinding eye diseases. For information on RPB, and RPB-funded research, eye disorders, and its grants program, go to http://www.rpbusa.org.