WVU vision researcher formally awarded Knights Templar Eye Foundation grant for research into rare genetic retinal disorder

WVU vision researcher formally awarded Knights Templar Eye Foundation grant for research into rare genetic retinal disorder

Representatives from the Knights Templar Eye Foundation (KTEF) recently visited the West Virginia University Health Sciences Campus to formally present researcher Emily Sechrest, Ph.D., with a KTEF Pediatric Ophthalmology Career-Starter research grant for research into a rare retinal disease.

Dr. Sechrest is a post-doctoral fellow in the lab of Wen Tao Deng, Ph.D., in the Departments of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine and Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. She was awarded a $90,000 grant from the KTEF in July of 2023, which provided one year of funding for research into potential treatments for a disease known as blue color monochromacy (BCM).

Sechrest explained that BCM is a rare genetic retinal disease that causes a loss of visual acuity, poor color discrimination, sensitivity to light, and myopia. She added that the hereditary disease is X-linked, so it almost exclusively affects males, and causes a condition known as infantile nystagmus, an involuntary movement of the eyes that persists throughout life. Sechrest said that there is currently no therapy available for patients with BCM, but magenta or brown filter glasses or contact lenses are often worn to decrease light sensitivity and better identify contrasting colors.

Since July, the KTEF grant has allowed Sechrest to perform research that identifies differences between young and aged cone photoreceptors affected by BCM to further explore potential treatment strategies. Sechrest said she is thankful to the KTEF for the grant and that she is proud of the work she has done so far, but that her exploration into BCM is far from over.

“Since receiving the grant last summer, we’ve made significant advancements in better understanding BCM, putting us that much closer to establishing a treatment for this rare, but devastating disease,” Sechrest said. “I am incredibly honored to formally accept this reward from the KTEF, and I look forward to continuing this research over the next few months.”

Members from the Grand Commandery of the Knights Templar of the State of West Virginia who visited the WVU Health Sciences Campus in March included Charles Krafft, Right Eminent Grand Commander and Brad Lewis, Eminent Grand Sentinel.

Sechrest will present her findings from this research during the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology Annual Meeting on May 5-9 in Seattle, Wash.

To learn more about vision research at the School of Medicine, visit medicine.hsc.wvu.edu/eye/research/vision-research.