Tonia Rex, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Opthalmology & Visual Sciences
Overview of Interests
Dr. Rex is a visual system neuroscientist with training in retinal gene therapy. She is the Associate Director for Research in the Vanderbilt Eye Institute. Her laboratory studies mechanisms and neuroprotective strategies in complex neurodegenerations of the visual system including glaucoma and trauma. She developed a model of eye blast trauma that induces vision loss in the absence of trauma to the head or trunk of the body. Her lab discovered that repeat, low-level air-blast exposure induces an indirect traumatic optic neuropathy (ITON) with timing that is similar to that reported in patients. She is now actively investigating therapeutics to preserve or restore sight after blast-induced ITON using pharmacological, gene therapy, microparticle, and cell replacement therapy approaches. She has patented new forms of erythropoietin that she has also shown to preserve retinal neurons and visual function when delivered after the onset of neurodegeneration. Her lab is actively investigating the mechanism and site of action of erythropoietin that is critical for this neuroprotective effect in models of glaucoma. Finally, she leads a clinical study designed to identify and/or develop quantitative and objective diagnostics for the auditory and visual dysfunction frequently self-reported in traumatic brain injury patients. We expect to also learn the pathophysiological basis for these symptoms. We hope that this information will guide the development of interventional therapies and that our diagnostic assessments would serve as outcome measures for future clinical trials.