Recently Recruited Department Heads
Spearhead Translational Research Initiatives


Rohit Varma: Clearer Vision

For Rohit Varma, MD, MPH, head of ophthalmology and visual sciences, translational research has provided methods to assess the risk factors of developing blinding eye diseases, the impact those diseases have, and the issue of access and barriers to care.

When it comes to risk factors, “There is a very straightforward translational component,” says Varma, principal investigator on three NIH-funded, community-based studies to examine prevalence of and socioeconomic burdens caused by vision impairment. “We look at the factors that cause disease that are modifiable.” Diabetic eye disease, for example, is strongly related to levels of hemoglobin a1c, while cataracts are closely associated with cigarette smoking.

Examining the impacts of people’s vision loss on everyday activities like driving or watching television also has an obvious translational aspect, says Varma, who is associate dean for strategic planning. “The amount of change in vision is directly associated with the difficulty in performing these tasks,” he says. “If you can reduce vision loss, you can improve the person’s ability to perform them.”

Perhaps even clearer are the effects of barriers to care, says Varma, whose research focuses primarily on epidemiology in minority and disadvantaged populations. “If you can potentially reduce the barriers and have greater access to care, you can reduce the potential for losing your vision and going blind,” he says.