Thyroid Eye Research

Thyroid Eye Disease and Other Autoimmune Diseases

Multidisciplinary collaborations are a key to the successful enhancement of eye health. The University of Rochester Medical Center and the Flaum Eye Institute provide an ideal environment for this work.

Graves' Disease

One example of current multidisciplinary investigations is the Graves’ disease collaboration between Steven E. Feldon, M.D., an orbital disease specialist, and Richard Phipps, Ph.D., a researcher who specializes in the study of the biology of fibroblasts (connective tissue cells involved in thyroid eye disease).

Many Graves’ disease patients—especially women who smoke—will develop thyroid eye disease, a condition that causes disfiguring bulging eyes, corneal drying, optic nerve inflammation, blurry vision, and even blindness. An inflammatory process associated with the disease induces structural cells behind the eye called fibroblasts to make too much connective tissue protein. The fibroblasts also convert into fat-like cells. The combination of excessive connective tissue and accumulating fatty tissue pushes the eye out of the eye socket, causing disfigurement, double vision, and vision loss.

Hope For a Treatment

Today we have decompressive surgery available to restore some measure of function and cosmetic appearance, but no cure. Building on Dr. Phipps' knowledge of lung fibroblasts and Dr. Feldon's expertise in treating thyroid eye disease and its complications, the interdepartmental team is developing a model system to study how immune system cells interact with orbital fibroblasts.

By understanding the process, the hope is to develop a rational therapy for treatment of this disease and possibly other autoimmune diseases affecting the eye structures.