Dr. Ajay Sharma has been awarded a $1.71 million grant from the National Eye Institute (NEI) for a five-year research project to investigate the pathology of ocular Graft versus Host Disease (oGVHD).

Dr. Sharma’s research will investigate the role of a specific type of immune cells called “macrophages” in oGVHD. About half of the oGVHD patients do not respond to currently available treatments, including steroids, one of the frequently used treatments. Dr. Sharma’s research will lead to a better understanding of the pathology of oGVHD and may likely yield more effective mechanism-based treatments. The grant will also test the efficacy of two new drugs in mitigating oGVHD.

“I am excited to have this NEI funding”, Dr. Sharma says. “I am fortunate to have a very dedicated and hardworking team of undergraduate and graduate students, as well as research staff, at Chapman who put their hearts into this type of research. We sincerely hope that this research project and the hard work of our team will translate into better management of oGVHD, relieve oGVHD patients suffering, and provide them with a better-quality vision.”

Graft versus host disease (GVHD) can occur in patients who receive bone marrow transplants for the treatment of leukemia and some other blood disorders such as thalassemia.  Although bone marrow transplant cures blood cancer or thalassemia, the immune cells from the transplanted marrow can attack the host body, including the eyes, leading to oGVHD. Incidence of chronic ocular GVHD (oGVHD) is high, with 60-90% of these patients showing damage to the cornea and conjunctiva resulting in serve symptoms such as dry eye, gritty sensation, visual disturbance, and sometimes eye globe perforation.