5Q With Kimberly A. Drenser, MD, PhD
What inspires you in your career and in your PERSONAL life?
It was always my goal to be able to meld my research background with patient care. One of the most exciting aspects of retina is the continuous development of new therapies for disease management. I also look forward to the increasing understanding of pathogenesis and improvements in interventions, and, hopefully, regeneration in the future. It has been inspiring to see the work done in my laboratory translated into patient care.
Away from my career, my only real hobby is raising my two daughters. My primary goals are to help them to realize and achieve their potential and to see that you can orchestrate your life to be fulfilling both professionally and personally.
What types of cases have been most fulfilling for you?
I find pediatric retina surgeries to be the most rewarding and challenging cases. These carry a high degree of complexity but can change a child’s future. That doesn’t mean the more straightforward therapies aren’t also rewarding, though. Advances in technology, both therapeutic and surgical, have revolutionized patient outcomes and made patient care more rewarding.
In addition to your medical degree, you also have a PhD in molecular genetics and microbiology. What drew you to these fields?
As a college student, I was fascinated by the elegant simplicity of our chromosomes. I wanted to understand how a simple code could modulate tissue and organ genesis and continue to maintain such complex organisms for nearly a century. I felt that, if one could understand this, one could change the face of medicine. In graduate school, I became interested in neuroscience. So the combination of genetics and neurons and how that combination manifested in the retina became a focus of mine. Eventually, I combined my work in retinal degeneration and genetics to develop a gene therapy for autosomal dominant retinitis pigmentosa in rats.
Tell us about your work in the Pediatric Retinal Disease Molecular Genetics Laboratory. What are your goals in clinical research and practical applications?
With my background in genetics, molecular biology, gene therapy, and retina, I wanted to try to understand how the eye and, more specifically, how the retina develops. I was confused by the similar pathologies found in both premature infants (ostensibly with no genetic deficiencies) and patients with inherited vitreoretinopathies (predominantly full-term infants).
This led to my investigation into the Wnt signaling pathway and how it directs the coordinated growth of retinal vasculature and neurogenesis. By understanding the pathways that direct appropriate retinal development in the fetus and the infant, it may be possible to create therapies to correct both congenital and acquired vitreoretinal disease. My goal is to be able to help an eye that is developing incorrectly (such as in retinopathy of prematurity or familial exudative vitreoretinopathy) or heal an eye that has been injured (such as in diabetic retinopathy).
If you could have dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why?
Indiana Jones. He really gets to have the best of both worlds. He is an intelligent, well-read, scholarly academic who goes on unbelievable adventures and ultimately wins because of his knowledge. I imagine that would be a very exciting dinner.
Kimberly A. Drenser, MD, PhD
• Partner at Associated Retinal Consultants in Royal Oak, Michigan; Professor in the department of ophthalmology at the William Beaumont Oakland University School of Medicine in Rochester, Michigan; and Director of the Pediatric Retinal Research Laboratory, housed in the Eye Research Institute at Oakland University
• Member of the Retina Today editorial advisory board