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Penn State Health Eye Center research is critical in providing the best possible patient care. Faculty from many departments participate in both clinical and basic research to improve treatments for diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, pediatric eye disease, diabetic retinopathy, retinal vein occlusion and corneal wound healing.

Penn State Health Eye Center is dedicated to supporting cutting edge research that translates to the provision of up-to-date eye care treatments for our patients in central Pennsylvania and beyond.

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Research Leadership

A head-and-shoulders professional photo of Alistair Barber

Alistair Barber, PhD

Alistair Barber, PhD, is Associate Research Director of Penn State Health Eye Center.

Since 1995, Dr. Barber’s research has focused on the role of retinal neurodegeneration in vision-loss in diabetic retinopathy. This degenerative disease of the retina is a common complication of diabetes and is the leading cause of vision loss in working-age adults in the developed countries.

The Barber lab was one of the first to show that diabetes increases retinal cell death by apoptosis, and went on to quantify the accelerated loss of a variety of sub-types of neurons in animal models of diabetes.

Read more about Dr. Barber here

Research Projects

Clinical Studies Expand answer

Penn State Eye Center frequently seeks volunteers to participate in clinical trials related to vision and eyes.

Faculty participate in several national clinical research studies through the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

Current Studies

View active ophthalmology clinical trials in StudyFinder, our searchable database of clinical research taking place at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Penn State College of Medicine.

Topics being studied include:

  • Inherited retinal degeneration
  • Early non-invasive ocular markers for diabetic complications
  • Establishment of a biorepository of ocular tissue and vitreous fluid for future study
  • The safety and efficacy of various compounds in patients with neovascular age-related macular degeneration

Learn More About Clinical Research

Contact Us

For information about current studies, contact Amy Longenecker, clinical research specialist/manager, at 717-531-1513 or

Basic Research Overview Expand answer

Penn State researchers have identified key pathways to stimulate healing of the cornea after injuries.

Through their National Eye Institute grant, they discovered that drugs controlling the opioid growth factor system can accelerate wound healing in the cornea. This approach may be particularly helpful for people with diabetes or recurrent corneal erosions.

The Penn State Retina Research Laboratories continue basic research in vision loss due to diabetic retinopathy. With funding from the National Eye Institute, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the American Diabetes Association and Lions Clubs International, they are developing and testing new treatments to counteract vision loss in diabetes.

Learn more about the retina research laboratories

Retina Research Laboratories Expand answer

The Retina Research Laboratories represent a collective group of research facilities and scientists headed by Alistair Barber, PhD. The group, an interdisciplinary team of scientists with expertise in ophthalmology, physiology, cellular and molecular biology and neuroscience, aims to characterize the cellular and molecular mechanisms that lead to vision impairment in diabetes and to generate novel treatments to cure diabetic retinopathy.

Normal vision requires all the cells in the retina to work together properly. The group’s approach to understanding how the retina malfunctions in diabetes is based on the observation that the normal interactions between the three main cellular components – neurons, glial cells and tiny capillaries (vessels) – are disturbed.

The group believes that diabetes changes cellular interactions in a variety of ways, including altered blood-retinal barrier (BRB) induction, modified neurotransmitter (Glu) recycling, diminished metabolic support for neurons by glia, as well as leaking tight junctions (TJ).

A cure for diabetic retinopathy relies on an ability to understand the multiple facets of the disease.

More About Ophthalmology

Department Overview Expand answer

The mission of the Department of Ophthalmology is to provide the highest quality care, from basic eye exams to management of glaucoma to reconstructive surgery; to improve patient care through excellence in biomedical research; and to educate and train future ophthalmology specialists.

See an overview of the department here

Educational Programs Expand answer

Education in the Department of Ophthalmology provides training at all levels of practice.

Learn more about the Ophthalmology Residency here

Learn more about MD student electives here

Patient Care Expand answer

Penn State Health offers the region’s most expansive multispecialty eye and vision care — from general eye care services, diagnosis and management of common and complex eye conditions, to the most advanced ophthalmic surgery available anywhere.

Learn more about patient care in ophthalmology here

Latest News from Ophthalmology

Contact Us

To speak to someone about ophthalmology research, contact Amy Longenecker, clinical research specialist/manager, at 717-531-1513 or