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Award spurs Jonna’s research on ocular melanoma

Dec. 8, 2016, 9:07 AM

Gowtham Jonna, M.D., senior retina fellow at the Vanderbilt Eye Institute, recently received a VitreoRetinal Surgery Foundation (VRSF) Research Award.

Gowtham Jonna, M.D.
Gowtham Jonna, M.D.

The purpose of the award is to support young investigators conducting research on macular and retinal disease and to encourage a career devoted to retinal disease and research.

Jonna is working on a project with mentor Anthony Daniels, M.D., M.Sc., assistant professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Cancer Biology and Radiation Oncology, to better identify patients who are at risk for developing melanoma in the eye. He has been studying chloroidal nevi, pigmented tumors that arise within the support layer (choroid) beneath the retina in the back of the eye.

“The freckle-like lesion that appears in the back of the eye is at risk for becoming melanoma,” said Jonna. “The flat versions of these lesions are difficult to characterize with some of the current imaging modalities, and we are investigating using enhanced depth imaging optical coherence tomography (EDI-OCT) to evaluate the lesions and monitor growth over time.

“The use of this form of imaging could possibly help us stratify these patients and better predict who is at risk for developing melanoma and prompt earlier treatment.”

Jonna said the goal is better outcomes and lowering the risk of eye loss as well as loss of life if the cancer becomes more aggressive. Half of all ocular melanomas ultimately metastasize, which is rapidly and uniformly fatal, said Daniels.

Jonna’s research aims to identify, at a much earlier stage, those choroidal nevi that have transformed into ocular melanomas to treat them before metastases develop.

“Although one in 8,000-10,000 people are at risk of the transformation into melanoma, almost 10 percent of the Caucasian population has these precursor nevi,” Jonna said. “The risk is considered small, unless it happens to you.”

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