Tonia Rex, Ph.D.

Associate Vice Chair for Research, Vanderbilt Eye Institute; Marlene and Spencer Hays Director for Translational Research; Professor of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences

VKC Member

Overview of Interests

Dr. Rex is a visual system neurobiologist. Her laboratory studies mechanisms and neuroprotective strategies in complex neurodegenerations of the visual system including glaucoma and trauma. She developed a model of optic nerve trauma from repeat, low-level air-blast exposure that results in vision loss and pathology modeling indirect traumatic optic neuropathy (ITON). Her laboratory actively investigates 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.