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Congressman Higgins Announces Over $684,000 for Research Dedicated to Protecting & Treating Servicemembers Exposed to Blast-Induced Eye Damage

Jun 27, 2019
Press Release
Project Led by the Vision Research Center at the Buffalo VA Medical Center

Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) announced VA Western New York Healthcare System (Buffalo VA Medical Center) has received a $684,254 grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to pursue research on blast-induced eye damage in active military personnel and veterans.

“Impressive research projects happening here in Western New York are providing a better understanding of serious health conditions our servicemembers face and expanding opportunities for improved treatments for veterans and the general population alike,” said Congressman Higgins who recently toured the Vision Research Center at the Buffalo VA Medical Center following a separate announcement of $2.4 million in federal funding for three additional VA research projects in April. 

Military personnel are often exposed to overpressure shock waves from Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) or other blast-type weaponry.  There are currently no known treatments or preventative interventions for ocular damage that occur as a result of these incidents. This research seeks to address an important but previously under-explored problem faced by many veterans.

The grant was awarded to Dr. Steven Fliesler, a Research Career Scientist and the Director of the Vision Research Center at VA Western New York Healthcare System, as well as being a SUNY Distinguished Professor, the Meyer H. Riwchun Endowed Chair Professor and Vice-Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at SUNY-Buffalo, and the Co-Director of the Buffalo Translational Pilot Studies Program at SUNY-Buffalo with over 35 years of experience in vision research. 

Dr. Fliesler will be working with Dr. Machelle Pardue, a Research Career Scientist at the Atlanta VA Medical Center, the Associate Director of Scientific Projects at the Atlanta VA Rehab R&D Center of Excellence, and an Associate Professor of Ophthalmology at Emory University. Their collaborative project focuses on uncovering both the causes of and effective treatments for blast overpressure-associated retinal denigration and subsequent visual impairment. The research goal is to develop strategies for minimizing or preventing the damaging impacts of overpressure shock waves.

“Blast-induced injuries, such as those that result in traumatic brain injury and ocular damage, are signature injuries of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” stated Dr. Fliesler. “Our research, funded by this VA MERIT Award, is aimed at understanding the molecular and cellular basis of retinal damage and dysfunction caused by the shock waves that emanate from blasts, as well as developing a simple, yet effect, treatment to reduce the severity of that damage and dysfunction.”

“This award by the Department of Veterans Affairs will help explore new strategies to lessen the devastating consequences of traumatic injuries,” said Dr. Ali El-solh, Associate Chief of Staff of Research, VA Western New York Healthcare System.  “By identifying how blast energy leads to neuronal damage, the award will pave the way for targeted therapeutic opportunities needed to improve the lives of injured Veterans.”