News Releases

July 15, 2019

Steven Yeh, MD, mohindo baby ebola eye exam
Retina specialist, Steven Yeh, MD, examines the eyes of an Ebola survivor
CREDIT: WHO/J. D. Kannah

Steven Yeh and Emory Team Awarded $3.2 Million Research Grant from NIH to Understand Eye Disease in Ebola Survivors

Emory Eye Center physician Steven Yeh, MD, has been awarded a RO1 Grant from the National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health (NIH) to further study vision-related issues in Ebola Virus Disease survivors. The $3.2 million grant stems from prior work related to eye disease in Ebola survivors in the United States and Sierra Leone since the West African Ebola outbreak from 2014 to 2016.

Their team’s research focuses on the prevalence and treatment of uveitis in survivors. Uveitis is an ocular inflammatory disease that can lead to vision impairment or even blindness, if left untreated.

“This NIH investment will allow our investigative team to rigorously evaluate eye disease in Ebola survivors in West Africa, as well as the mechanisms that underlie the development of eye disease,” Yeh says. “Specifically, we will evaluate patient risk factors, Ebola viral persistence in the eye, and the role of the patient’s immune system in mediating uveitis.”

Leading investigators from departments across Emory University – Emory Eye Center, Emory Vaccine Center (Rafi Ahmed, PhD), and Rollins School of Public Health – will collaborate on key aspects of the five-year project. Researchers from the U.S. Army Medical Reserve Institute of Infectious Diseases, Tulane University School of Public Health, and Kenema Government Hospital Lassa fever laboratory will work on key laboratory diagnostic investigation. Other key academic institution partners include the University of California San Francisco, Proctor Foundation and Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia.

Ophthalmologist Matthew Vandy, MD, of the Lowell and Ruth Gess Eye Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone, is another lead collaborator.  Dr. Yeh and co-investigator, Jessica Shantha, MD, from the Emory Eye Center have worked with Vandy and others since first traveling to Sierra Leone in 2015.

“Eye care is only one issue among many in Ebola survivors,” Shantha says. “However, prior studies have shown that over 30% of survivors may develop ocular complications.” Uveitis and cataracts are two of those complications. Both tend to show clinical features differently in Ebola survivors than in other patients and often are much more difficult to treat.

Part of that treatment has included the design of specialized ophthalmic procedure rooms in Sierra Leone to safely test ocular fluid for Ebola before scheduling the patient’s surgery. As Yeh says, “Because of the potential that Ebola virus might remain in a patient’s ocular fluid, we want to ensure that we’re doing everything possible to protect the patient and their health provider.”

“I want to congratulate Dr. Yeh for not only obtaining NEI funding for his research on survivors of Ebola virus, but also for obtaining the highest possible percentile (top 1%) for his grant application,” says Allen D. Beck, MD, chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and director ofEmory Eye Center. “We are fortunate to have Dr. Yeh and Dr. Shantha on the faculty of the ophthalmology department, and we look forward to future discoveries that will help care for these very special patients.”

Yeh joined Emory Eye Center in 2010. He holds the M. Louise Simpson Professorship in Ophthalmology and is director of the Eye Center’s Uveitis and Vasculitis clinical specialty service and a Faculty Fellow, Emory Global Health Institute.

Emory Eye Center faculty conduct research related to causes of and treatments for glaucoma, age related macular degeneration, cataract, optic nerve damage, genetic eye diseases, and more. The Eye Center has received more than $45 million in vision research grants from NIH since 2006.


Emory Eye Center Research

From its inception in 1964, Emory Eye Center’s scientific research laboratory has been home to award-winning scientists who dedicate their lives to understanding catastrophic eye diseases that affect people worldwide. Their scientific discoveries have significantly contributed to treatments for patients with conditions such as eye cancer, hereditary cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration, idiopathic intracranial hypertension, and more.  


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