Explore UAB

by Nathan Anderson

Katherine Weise, OD, MBA, FAAO, UAB School of Optometry professor, has been accepted into the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Committee as an Expert in Myopia. She will help assess the current mechanistic understanding of myopia pathogenesis and causes of its increased prevalence, to identify knowledge gaps and barriers to progress, and to develop a research agenda aimed at better understanding the biological and environmental factors that could explain its increasing incidence.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine provides objective advice to the United States government to spark progress and confront challenging issues for the benefit of society. The nonprofit organization has been bridging science and society since 1863, when Abraham Lincoln created its charter.

“I am so humbled and honored to receive this opportunity, and I am so appreciative of those who provided me with opportunities in research before I knew I liked it,” Weise said. “I consider myself propelled by so many who have mentored me in the field of myopia.”

Weise began studying myopia in the late 1990s while working under the supervision of Jimmy Bartlett, OD, professor emeritus. They researched the tolerability and safety of a daily eye gel for myopia, called pirenzepine. At the time, Weise did not know that this experience would set the stage for a career focused on researching myopia, commonly known as nearsightedness. Statistics show that more than 2 billion people worldwide suffer from myopia and are at risk of losing sight due to myopia-related ocular complications. Consequently, this condition is now considered a global epidemic.

The next study Weise participated in was the Correction of Myopia Evaluation Trial (COMET) with Wendy Marsh-Tootle, OD, MS, FAAO, professor emeritus and the first optometrist at UAB to receive an R01 grant.

“Dr. Marsh-Tootle asked me ‘would you like to be the COMET investigator?’ and I replied ‘no,’” Weise said. “However, she rephrased her question and told me I needed to be the COMET investigator. In 1997, none of us knew that COMET would go on to be a 14-year research project that helped us learn so much about myopia.”

Designed by Marsh-Tootie, Tom Norton, PhD, FAAO, professor emeritus, and other nationally recognized myopia researchers at the time, COMET received support through the National Institutes of Health’s funding mechanism for large-scale, multi-center, randomized clinical trials. COMET had the gold standard in funding for research, according to Weise. It provided the proof researchers needed to start developing more ways to treat nearsightedness in children.

“When we showed for the first time that we could slow down the growth of the human eye with special glasses, I was hooked,” Weise said. “When I help a child in clinic who is nearsighted, that feels great. However, when we do research, we help children all over the world because we have discovered new information that can benefit so many.”

In a recent study, Weise, the pediatric optometry service director at UAB Eye Care, contributed to research that included a diverse group of children in the US across 12 sites and found that low-dose (0.01%) atropine eyedrops are no better than placebo eye drops. This research finding will help eye doctors in the future provide more treatment options to patients that might work to substitute the eye drops.

Weise shared that she hopes her research in myopia will aid in learning more about the prevalence of nearsightedness in children, explain why the condition is increasing, and discover better ways to educate patients about myopia. She said her goal is to help reduce nearsightedness and the eye disease associated with a long eyeball.