Grant from Knights Templar Eye Foundation will help launch promising career in ophthalmologic research

Researcher Wenlin Zhang is investigating metabolic changes behind rare corneal disorder
Dr. Wenlin Zhang accepts the first installment of her grant from Sir Knight Jeffrey N. Nelson and other Knights Templar at the Annual Conclave of the Grand Commandery of California. Credit: Knights Templar Eye Foundation.

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Tami Dennis
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UCLA researcher Dr. Wenlin Zhang, Ph.D., has received a $65,000 Career Starter Research Grant from the Knights Templar Eye Foundation for her work on a rare type of degenerative corneal disorder known as congenital hereditary endothelial dystrophy.

The condition, present at birth or developing shortly thereafter, is characterized by a diffuse clouding of the corneas, blurred vision and vision loss. People with the condition can also develop deafness later in life.

Zhang, a researcher at the Stein Eye Institute, hopes to better understand the metabolic changes behind the condition in hopes of identifying a non-surgical treatment approach. Currently, the only option is a corneal transplant, a difficult procedure that is often unsuccessful in children.

“This grant illustrates not just the commitment of UCLA to investigate disorders and diseases with the hopes of finding new treatments – it also highlights the confidence that the Knights of the Templar have in our ability to do that,” said Zhang, a postdoctoral scholar in Dr. Anthony Aldave’s lab. “I’m extremely appreciative of this grant and the confidence behind it.”

In previous research, Zhang studied how mutations in a specific gene, SLC4A11, are connected to development of the condition. The new funding will enable her to study the impact of resulting metabolic changes.

The Career Starter Research Award is intended to support original innovative research projects that may launch careers in clinically relevant pediatric eye research.