Dr. Ying Han: Better Solutions for Glaucoma

 
I’m grateful for all Dr. Han does to preserve my sight,” says Barbara Smeltzer, a patient who recently underwent surgery to reduce abnormal pressure in her eyes. This keeps optic nerve cells from dying. Barbara is one of an estimated eight million people living with glaucoma, making it the world’s leading cause of irreversible blindness. Most glaucoma patients eventually require surgery to preserve their sight.

Problem: Glaucoma surgeries relieve fluid buildup in the eye,but natural scarring at the surgical site eventually blocks drainage.

“Saving patients from sight loss is my passion,” says glaucoma specialist Ying Han, MD, PhD. Dr. Han aims to diminish scarring caused by glaucoma procedures, which limits their effectiveness. Two recent awards have advanced Dr. Han’s investigations to help glaucoma patients at UCSF and around the world.

Promise: New tactics to reduce scarring aim to extend the sight-saving impact of glaucoma surgery.

 

Awards Hasten Novel Approaches

For most patients with open-angle glaucoma, clogged drainage channels cause fluid buildup and abnormal intraocular pressure, which damages the optic nerve. In glaucoma surgery, a tiny drainage tube is implanted in the front of the eye.

Dr. Han and a collaborating biomaterials technologist, Chang Xie, PhD (University of Texas, Austin), received a UCSF Catalyst Award to apply a novel nanomesh material to glaucoma surgery. With product development coaching and funds, they established that micro-channels in the nanomesh circumvent scarring on the eye’s surface.

“Now Dr. Xie and I are designing a way to integrate the mesh with the drainage tube we insert during surgery,” says Dr. Han.

Dr. Han also attracted an award from New World Medical, maker of the Ahmed glaucoma valve. Building on the work of her renowned mentor, Jorge Alvarado, MD, Dr. Han hypothesized that using anti-scarring drugs after implanting the valve could better sustain new fluid drainage. This promising strategy has progressed to a multi-site, double-blind clinical trial. Her preliminary results show that an intensified drug regimen results in healthier intraocular pressure, reduced need for medication, and retained vision, without dramatic complications.

Proposed concept of novel glaucoma drainage implant. Dr. Han’s collaborator, Dr. Xie, originally developed this microfluidic meshwork for brain probes. Its tiny channels circumvent a strong scarring response at the surgical site.

This promising strategy has progressed to a multi-site, double-blind clinical trial. Her preliminary results show that an intensified drug regimen results in healthier intraocular pressure, reduced need for medication, and retained vision, without dramatic complications.

Passion for Her Patients

“Scarring is a major obstacle to maintaining healthy eye pressure for postsurgical patients,” says Dr. Han. “The urgent need to improve our treatments motivates me every day.”

In addition to UCSF and New World Medical, Dr. Han’s investigations are supported by Research to Prevent Blindness, the National Institutes of Health, and Massy Safai, MD.