Knights Templar Fund Research of Preterm Infant Vision Loss

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Representatives of the Knights Templar present a check to Dr. Ditta. (From left) Knight John D. Pugh, Jr., Dianna Johnson, PhD, Knight Terry L. Plemons, Lauren C. Ditta, MD, Knight Ralph B. Taylor, and Hamilton Professor/HEI Director Barrett G. Haik, MD, FACS

The Knights Templar Eye Foundation, which is committed to supporting research for the prevention of potentially blinding diseases in infants in children, has awarded HEI Ophthalmology Assistant Professor, Lauren C. Ditta, MD, $60,000 for her project, "Differential Effects of Parenteral Versus Enteral Nutritional Supplementation on Visual Pathway Development in a Preterm Pig Model."

The project, which is a collaboration between the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Le Bonheur Children's Hospital, and the University of Memphis aims to learn more about visual system development in preterm infants. Premature birth is a major cause of disorders and illnesses in children, especially neurological impairment. Normal brain growth requires the development of a fatty layer called myelin, which accumulates around nerve cells and enables them to transmit information faster, allowing for more complex brain processes. Preterm infants are at risk for insufficient myelination pattern development, which may cause vision loss. By examining how nutritional delivery affects growth and maturation of the brain in a preterm pig model, Dr. Ditta hopes to gain valuable insight on how to best support preterm infants.

Dr. Ditta expressed gratitude toward Dianna Johnson, PhD, who was instrumental in helping her prepare the grant proposal, and to the Knights Templar for awarding her the grant. "I have been given a great opportunity by the Knights Templar to conduct this research," Dr. Ditta said. "I am both honored and humbled to receive this grant support. I also appreciate the ongoing commitment of the Hamilton Eye Institute to academic research for vision preservation and restoration. I am looking forward to the year ahead, and working with my collaborators on this translational research project."