Associate Professor of Ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School
Assistant in Ophthalmology, Massachusetts Eye & Ear
Clinical Associate, Massachusetts General Hospital
Dr. Ula V. Jurkunas received her M.D. degree Cum Laude from the University of Louisville in 2000 where she was a member of Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society. She is an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School and an Associate Scientist at Schepens Eye Research Institute. Additionally, she is a Clinical Associate in the Ophthalmology Department at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Dr. Jurkunas is a clinician-scientist who performs corneal and refractive surgery at Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Mass. General, and basic science research at Schepens. She instructs residents and fellows in corneal, cataract, and refractive surgery and in the clinical management and diagnosis of corneal and refractive conditions.
Dr. Jurkunas primarily focuses her research in two main areas. The first area is the study of the pathogenesis of Fuchs endothelial corneal dystrophy (FECD) with emphasis on the role of oxidative stress in endothelial cell death seen in FECD, and development of cultivated epithelial (stem) cell transplantation for treatment of limbal stem cell deficiency patients. As a recipient of the K12 Award to study FECD, she laid the groundwork for the proposed research by developing experimental systems to test the proposed hypotheses.
The Jurkunas laboratory was the first to derive a telomerase immortalized corneal endothelial cell line which provides an important new tool for the in vitro study of corneal endothelial cell biology. Specifically, the laboratory has undertaken studies to determine how oxidative stress causes molecular and cellular damage in the susceptible FECD endothelium. These studies are significant because understanding the key regulators of antioxidant defense and oxidative stress-induced cellular damage may facilitate development of pharmacotherapeutic treatment for FECD patients. Dr Jurkunas has received RO1 funding from NEI/NIH for the proposed studies and she has filed an international patent application for the treatment of corneal endothelial disorders.
The second main area of research for Dr Jurkunas, is the development of autologous cultivated epithelial stem cell constructs for patients suffering from corneal blindness due to limbal stem cell deficiency. She has been collaborating with the Center for Human Cell Therapy Boston, a unique resource that functions across different departments and affiliated institutions of Harvard Medical School. Concurrently, Dr Jurkunas was awarded the Production Assistance for Cellular Therapies (PACT) grant from National Heart/Lung and Blood Program of NIH to aid in the translational development of stem cell therapy in corneal disorders. She is in the process of filing an Investigational New Drug (IND) application to FDA for performing the Phase I/II study to treat corneal blindness with the stem cells.
A globally recognized scientist, author and lecturer, Dr. Jurkunas' work has led to numerous peer-reviewed publications, review articles, and presentations nationally and internationally.
Main Research Interests
- The pathogenesis of Fuchs endothelial corneal dystrophy with emphasis on the role of oxidative stress in endothelial cell death seen in Fuchs.
- The development of autologous cultivated epithelial stem cell constructs for patients suffering from corneal blindness due to limbal stem cell deficiency.
2000, M.D., Cum Laude, University of Louisville University of Louisville, Louisville, KY
2001 - 2004, Resident, Boston University, Boston, MA
2004 -2006, Fellow, Mass. Eye and Ear Infirmary, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA
2006, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA
2006, Fellow, Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine