Casey Eye Institute Student Volunteer Awarded Summer Student Fellowship

pennesi_titusThe national nonprofit organization Fight for Sight has awarded a 2013 Summer Student Fellowship to OHSU Casey Eye Institute student volunteer, Hope Titus. Her grant, "Natural history assessment of retinitis pigmentosa with Imagine Eyes rtx1™ Adaptive Optics," will establish repeatability measures for single cell cone counting in patients with retinitis pigmentosa (RP). One of the most common forms of inherited retinal degeneration, RP gradually leads to blindness by causing death of rod and cone photoreceptors.

Adaptive optics (AO) technology improves the performance of optical systems by correcting distortions with a mirror that can change shape. This technology originally was used in astronomical telescopes to reduce the blurring effects of the Earth's atmosphere when viewing stars and galaxies. Scientists are now applying this technology to imaging the back of the eye to reduce the blurring effects of the cornea and vitreal eye fluid. 

AO allows the imaging of single photoreceptor cells, called cones, in the living human eye. "This system has the potential to expand our understanding of the progression of cone loss, which will be significant in evaluating potential treatments for RP," said Titus, adding that because it is a standardized instrument, it can be used in multicenter trials. However, much work is needed to validate the results from commercially available flood illuminated adaptive optics cameras, she said. "The goals of this project are to better measure cones in patients with RP and to see if any changes can be observed in a short time."

Titus, a bioengineering undergraduate student at Santa Clara University, intends to pursue a career in research. She became interested in research


while volunteering in Mark Pennesi, M.D., Ph.D's laboratory in the summer of 2012. This research award will give her the opportunity to further explore the field of ophthalmological research and to connect her studies with real issues. Further, it will give her invaluable experience in an ophthalmology lab with field-specific equipment, continuously exposing her to current research in the field.

Each recipient receives a two- to three-month award of $2,000.  Hope is the third student in the last three years to receive this award under Dr. Pennesi's mentorship.