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UTHealth scientists elected AAAS Fellows for their vision-saving efforts

University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

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IMAGE: UTHealth scientist Stephen Daiger, Ph.D., was elected AAAS Fellow. view more

Credit: The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth)

Two professors in the School of Public Health at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) - Stephen Daiger, Ph.D., and Robert Hardy, Ph.D. - have been elected to the rank of Fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for their efforts to prevent blindness.

Daiger and Hardy were selected for this honor for 2014 for their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. They were elected by peers in the AAAS and will be recognized at the 2015 AAAS Annual Meeting in San Jose, Calif. on Feb. 14.

Their sight-saving efforts are focused on diseases affecting the retina. This is the part of the eye that converts images into electrical signals for the brain to process and acts much like the film in a camera.

For the better part of three decades, Daiger has been working to identify the genes responsible for retinitis pigmentosa, a family of hereditary eye diseases affecting more than 200,000 people in the United States and millions globally. There is no cure.

Armed with this genetic information, researchers are working on medications designed to inhibit the activity of these disease-causing genes. Many genes responsible for the autosomal dominant type of retinitis pigmentosa were discovered by Daiger's team.

"Dr. Daiger is a true leader and visionary in genetic research for retinal diseases. His expertise and discoveries have been instrumental in the diagnosis of patients and the identification of targets for emerging vision-saving therapies," said Stephen Rose, Ph.D., chief research officer for Foundation Fighting Blindness, which supports Daiger's research.

"Furthermore, he's an outstanding speaker and educator. He makes the complex science accessible for patients and families. The knowledge not only gives them an understanding of their conditions, it gives them hope that their vision will someday be saved and restored," Rose said.

Hardy was cited for his efforts to test treatments for a retinal disease affecting about 16 percent of all severely premature babies - retinopathy of prematurity. Hardy, now retired, worked on retinopathy of prematurity for 25 years.

Hardy is a biostatistician who helped design clinical trials needed to learn more about retinopathy of prematurity.

"Dr. Hardy has made major contributions to the treatment of retinopathy of prematurity, a condition that can lead to blindness. Through his leadership on important clinical trials in the field, appropriate treatments have been proven to work," said Barry R. Davis, M.D., Ph.D., holder of the Guy S. Parcel Chair in Public Health and director of the Coordinating Center for Clinical Trials at the UTHealth School of Public Health.

"In addition, Dr. Hardy also developed an algorithm that aids in identifying which infants are most at risk and would benefit from treatment," Davis said.

Daiger is with the Human Genetics Center and holder of the Thomas Stull Matney Ph.D. Endowed Professorship in Environmental and Genetic Sciences at the UTHealth School of Public Health. He also has appointments in the Ruiz Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Science at the UTHealth Medical School and The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston.

Daiger received his undergraduate degree from Johns Hopkins University, his doctorate degree from Stanford University and did a postdoctoral fellowship in medical genetics at the University of Washington. He spent two years on active duty as a Medical Service Corps Officer in the U.S. Army.

Hardy was with UTHealth's Coordinating Center for Clinical Trials. He received an undergraduate degree from Southeastern Louisiana University, a master's degree from Tulane University and a doctoral degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

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The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal,Science as well as Science Translational Medicine and Science Signaling. AAAS was founded in 1848, and includes more than 250 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of 1 million.

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