Leader in Field of Retinal Development Wins Vision Award
Constance L. Cepko, Ph.D., an acknowledged leader in the field of retinal development and degeneration, has been awarded The Jewish Guild for the Blind’s 2011 Alfred W. Bressler Prize in Vision Science. The Bressler Committee chose Dr. Cepko because her discoveries have led to a new understanding of retinal degeneration and have opened the door to potential new therapeutic approaches.
Dr. Cepko is professor of genetics and professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, where she heads the Leder Program in Human Biology and Translation Medicine. She has also been designated as an investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, one of the country’s most prestigious medical research organizations. At Harvard, Dr. Cepko and her research team focus on the retina, and on ways to keep retinal cells alive when disease destroys cells that are important to normal vision.
Two recent pioneering studies illustrate the importance of her work. In one study, her lab discovered that inhibiting the enzyme histone deacetylase 4 (HDAC 4) prolonged photoreceptor survival in mouse models of retinitis pigmentosa (RP). This suggests new therapeutic approaches for RP in humans.
In another study, Dr. Cepko focused on mutations in cone-specific genes that cause photoreceptor degeneration. Dr. Cepko discovered, again using a mouse model of RP, that cone cell death is primarily due to a nutritional deficit and that the death of cone cells can be significantly delayed through stimulation of the insulin/mTOR pathway.
Dr. Cepko received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and her doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she made retroviral vectors used to transfer genes in disease studies. She followed that with a postdoctoral research fellowship in the lab of Dr. Richard Mulligan of the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Mass. Dr. Cepko joined Harvard Medical School’s Department of Genetics in 1985, where she established her own lab and began to apply the tools she had acquired in her doctoral and post-doctoral work to the study of neuroscience, focusing on the retina. She was appointed a full Investigator by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 1999.
The Bressler Committee’s goal is the selection of an accomplished mid-career vision care professional whose leadership, research and service have resulted in important advancements in the treatment of eye disease or rehabilitation of persons with vision loss, and whose life’s work portends future excellence. The Bressler Prize was established in 2001 through a bequest of Alfred W. Bressler, a New York attorney whose legal career spanned more than 70 years, most of that time with the law firm of Moses & Singer. #
Victoria Keller is on the staff of the Jewish Guild for the Blind.