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Berkeley professor Sheldon Miller to join NIH's National Eye Institute

13 August 2002

BERKELEY - Sheldon Miller, Professor of Cell & Developmental Biology and Professor of Vision Science at the University of California, Berkeley, has been named to a prestigious position at the National Eye Institute (NEI), one of the National Institutes of Health.

Sheldon Miller
Berkeley biology and vision science professor Sheldon Miller
As the scientific director of the Division of Intramural Research, Miller will coordinate the laboratory and patient-oriented vision research taking place at the NEI's Bethesda, Maryland campus. The NEI also supports vision research through approximately 1,600 research grants and training awards made to scientists at 250 facilities around the world.

Established by Congress in 1968, the NEI is charged with protecting and prolonging the vision of the American people. That task becomes ever more difficult as the Baby Boomer generation ages and life cycles lengthen, says a March report, "Vision Problems in the U.S.," authored by the NEI and the group Prevent Blindness in America. More Americans than ever before are facing blindness. Currently, more than 1 million Americans aged 40 or over are blind, and an additional 2.4 million classified as visually impaired. Those numbers are expected to double over the next 30 years as Baby Boomers enter the bifocal stage.

The leading causes of vision impairment in the U.S. are diabetic retinopathy, a condition that affects more than 5.3 million Americans aged 18 or older; age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which affects the part of the retina responsible for sharp vision in patients over 60; and the more familiar ailments of the elderly, cataracts and glaucoma. The Eye Institute is working on advanced therapies such as the transplantation of healthy cells into diseased retinas, which may ameliorate AMD; gene-based treatments that may slow some forms of retinal degeneration; and "neuroprotection" methods that will prevent or slow glaucoma cell damage.

While overseeing these programs, Miller will continue his own research at the institute. The author of more than 60 scientific papers, Miller has extensively studied epithelial systems in the breast, lung and eye. His research in epithelia cells, whose layers surround all of the major organs and line the body's cavities, has focused on the cells' ability to direct nutrients, ions and fluid from one extracellular space to another.

Looking at the eye's epithelial cells, Miller has advanced the use of gene-transfer techniques to create an animal model of choroidal neovascularization (CNV), a primary component of the most devastating form of AMD. This model is being used to test a variety of therapeutic interventions against CNV. He has a patent pending for the use of recombinant gene-delivery vectors for treating CNV.

He has also developed other animal models of retinal detachment as well as macular edema caused by diabetic retinopathy, in which fluid or swelling builds up in the macula — the central part of the retina responsible for the sharpest central vision. In these models, pharmacological interventions have been used to reduce retinal edema by increasing the magnitude of fluid transport across the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) in the intact eye. This work has formed part of the basis for phase I clinical trials.

The NEI post "presents an enormous opportunity to translate basic research into clinical practice," says Miller. "And all the expertise and resources necessary to carrying out this goal are housed on the Bethesda campus, which is an unparalleled national resource of talented biomedical scientists and clinicians."