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New FHS researchers: Meet Dr. Jacob Rullo

New FHS researchers: Meet Dr. Jacob Rullo

Dr. Rullo is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Ophthalmology 

Can you give me a quick summary of your research? 

I am interested in studying the microenvironment of the eye and what makes it different from the rest of the body. In particular, I am discovering and characterizing various unique molecules in the eye that can help us better understand diseases that affect the aging population, such as age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma. I am hopeful that some of these target molecules could become potential agents for therapeutic development.  

The second area I am really interested in is how research on the eye can potentially contribute to vaccine development or the development of novel antimicrobial agents. This is particularly of interest given the current COVD-19 pandemic. Eyes are very unique! Despite being exposed to micro-organisms on a daily basis, they remain relatively free of disease. As I stand here with my eyes open, they’re being bombarded by microbial debris and by-products. I'm really interested in better understanding this process and trying to determine if we can use the eye as a tool to better target microbes both at the local and systemic level.  

What problem do you want to solve through your research? 

The one overarching problem I want to solve through my research is how we can better harness the eye as a model to treat diseases, both inside and outside the eye.  

Why is your research important to you? 

Research has always been important to me, mostly because I am a very curious individual. I have always liked asking questions. I am never satisfied with just hearing a description. With respect to diseases of the eye or ophthalmology in general, there are many unknowns, therefore it is the perfect environment to ask lots of questions and solve hopefully even more problems. I will spend a lifetime devoting myself to the task, but the information gained from this research will not only keep me satisfied from a curiosity standpoint but hopefully provide benefit to my patients and to the scientific community. 

What do you hope to learn from your research? 

One of the areas I am actively researching is the measurement of immune molecules inside the eye. The current treatment for many diseases in ophthalmology is the injection of agents inside the eye. These agents have very small sequences that our body will eventually recognize as foreign. Over time, our immune system will learn to prevent that specific drug from having an effect. I am studying this process with the hopes of developing ways to block the immune response such that the drug retains its expected effect.  

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? 

As far as I can remember, I always said I wanted to be a doctor. During my final years of high school, I obtained a co-op placement in a hospital laboratory. Here, I learned the importance of medical research, which set the stage for a career as a clinician-scientist. To be able to take ideas from the clinic, test them in your lab, and bring a product back to your patient has always been the goal, albeit not an easy one. Clinician-scientists bridge the two realms of medicine and science. In my opinion, there has never been more of a need for this type of physician as the complexities of these two worlds grow larger and larger. 

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