About Us

Ian M. MacDonald MSc MD CM is a Professor in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, University of Alberta and recently stepped down after four terms as its Chair. From 2007-2008, he served as Branch Chief of Ophthalmic Genetics at the National Eye Institute of the NIH in Bethesda, MD. A McGill graduate in Medicine, Dr. MacDonald completed Ophthalmology residency training at the University of Ottawa and Clinical Genetics fellowship training at the University of Ottawa, Queen’s University, Kingston and the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto. He was a Career Scientist of the Ontario Ministry of Health at the University of Ottawa prior to moving to Edmonton in 1992.

His main research interest is inherited retinal disorders, in particular, maculopathies and choroideremia. In 2009, in recognition of his work in Canada to foster the development of academic ophthalmology, he was elected to as a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences.

Research Support: Alberta Innovates-Health Solutions; Choroideremia Research Foundation, Canada Inc.; Foundation Fighting Blindness, Canada; Canadian Institutes for Health Research, Canadian Foundation for Innovation

References:

MacDonald IM, Moen C, Duncan JL, Tsang SH, Cehajic-Kapetanovic J, Aleman TS. Perspectives on Gene Therapy: Choroideremia Represents a Challenging Model for the Treatment of Other Inherited Retinal Degenerations. Trans Vis Sci Tech. 2020;9(3):17.

Radziwon A, Cho WJ, Szkotak A, Suh M, MacDonald IM. Crystals and Fatty Acid Abnormalities Are Not Present in Circulating Cells From Choroideremia Patients. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2018 Sep 4;59(11):4464-4470.

Dimopoulos IS, Hoang SC, Radziwon A, Binczyk NM, Seabra MC, MacLaren RE, Somani R, Tennant MTS, MacDonald IM. Two-Year Results After AAV2-Mediated Gene Therapy for Choroideremia: The Alberta Experience. Am J Ophthalmol. 2018 Sep;193:130-142.

________________________________________________________________________

Matthew Benson MD is a graduate student and resident in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and he is completing a Master of Science degree in the MacDonald lab. He received his Medical Degree from the University of Alberta in 2015.

Matthew is particularly interested in inherited retinal dystrophies and he is currently investigating the mechanism of disease in a patient with a peroxisomal biogenesis disorder. He is the 2018 recipient of the Foundation Fighting Blindness Canada Clinician-Scientist Emerging Leader Award.

________________________________________________________________________

Geoff Casey BSc (EE), BSc (Mol Gen) is currently completing a Master of Science degree in Medical Genetics in the MacDonald lab. He has received Bachelor of Science degrees in Electrical Engineering/Nanotechnology and Molecular Biology from the University of Alberta.

Geoff is contributing to the development of novel viral vectors for the treatment of genetic ocular disorders. He is performing preclinical characterizations of viral vectors and evaluating novel methods of mitigating immune responses against these vectors.

________________________________________________________________________

Manlong Xu MD PhD is a clinical research fellow in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the University of Alberta under the supervision of Dr. Ian M. MacDonald.

Manlong obtained her medical degree from Zhongshan School of Medicine, Sun Yat-sen University in China. After coming to Canada, she completed her PhD in Vision Science and Biology (joint degree) at the University of Waterloo in 2015, where she studied ocular toxicology.

In Dr. MacDonald’s lab, Manlong is actively engaging in both basic science and clinical research on inherited retinal disorders. Currently, she is passionately researching induced pluripotent stem cells derived retinal pigment epithelial cells (iPSC-RPE) as a cell model for human retinal disorders. Using this model, she is conducting pre-clinical studies on antisense oligonucleotide (ASO) therapy as a potential treatment for choroideremia patients with a cryptic splice site mutation. Also, she is investigating the difference between rheumatoid arthritis and lupus patients in their resilience to Plaquenil retinal toxicity.

References:

Xu M, Zhai Y, MacDonald IM. Visual Field Progression in Retinitis Pigmentosa. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2020 Jun 3;61(6):56

Zhai Y, Xu M, Dimopoulos IS, Birch BG, Bernstein PS, Holt J, Kirn D, Francis P, & MacDonald IM. Quantification of RPE Changes in Choroideremia Using a Photoshop-Based Method. Transl Vis Sci Technol. June 2020 9(7).

Xu, M., McCanna, D.J. & Sivak, J.G. 2015, “Use of the Viability Reagent PrestoBlue in Comparison with Alamarblue and MTT to Assess the Viability of Human Corneal Epithelial Cells”, Journal of Pharmacological and Toxicological Methods, vol.71, pp. 1-7.

________________________________________________________________________

Headshot NNNicole Noel MSc is a PhD candidate in the Department of Medical Genetics at the University of Alberta. She completed her Masters in Biological Sciences at University of Alberta in 2017, in which she characterized cone photoreceptor connectivity in zebrafish and how photoreceptor-photoreceptor connections change throughout development.

Nicole currently researches molecular mechanisms underlying inherited photoreceptor degenerations. She utilizes zebrafish to model photoreceptor disease and has generated a model of retinitis pigmentosa with subretinal lipid deposits.   

References:

Noel NCL, Nadolski NJ, Hocking JC, MacDonald IM, Allison WT. Progressive photoreceptor dysfunction and age-related macular degeneration-like features in rp1l1 mutant zebrafish. Cells. 2020, 9(10): 2214.

Noel NCL & Ian M. MacDonald. RP1L1 and inherited photoreceptor disease: A review. Surv Ophthalmol. 2020, 60(6): 725-739.

Noel NCL & Allison WT. Connectivity of cone photoreceptor telodendria in the zebrafish retina. J Comp Neurol. 2018, 526: 609-625.

________________________________________________________________________

Yi (Fay) Zhai MD PhD is a clinical research fellow in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the University of Alberta under the supervision of Dr. Ian M. MacDonald. After receiving her medical degree from Zhejiang University, she passed the medical licensing examination and became an ophthalmologist in China. In 2016, she completed her PhD in Medicine with an ophthalmic specialty at Zhejiang University.

Dr. Zhai has a strong clinical research interest in inherited eye disorders. Her previous research projects include congenital cataract, age-related macular degeneration and hereditary retinal degeneration. In Dr. MacDonald’s laboratory, Dr. Zhai focuses on the clinical research and genetic therapy of retinal degeneration (especially choroideremia).

References:

Zhai Y, Xu M, Dimopoulos IS, Birch BG, Bernstein PS, Holt J, Kirn D, Francis P, & MacDonald IM. Quantification of RPE Changes in Choroideremia Using a Photoshop-Based Method. Transl Vis Sci Technol. June 2020 9(7).

Xu M, Zhai Y, MacDonald IM. Visual Field Progression in Retinitis Pigmentosa. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2020 Jun 3;61(6):56

Zhai Y, MacDonald IM. OCT Changes in 4-Year-Old Choroideremia Patient.  Ophthalmology. 2019 Oct;126(10):1357.

________________________________________________________________________

Sara-Gracie-861x1024Sara Gracie MSc CGC CCGC is a genetic counsellor in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the Royal Alexandra Hospital. She received her undergraduate degree in Genetics from the McMaster University in 2008, and her Master of Science degree in Medical Sciences from the University of Alberta in 2011. Sara worked in clinical trials at the Cross Cancer Institute for 7.5 years before receiving her Master of Science degree in Genetic Counseling from the University of Colorado in 2020. Sara is a passionate clinical genetics professional with a strong interest in the impacts of inherited ocular disorders on individuals and their families. Her experience in clinical trials contributes to her interests in gene therapies as potential treatments for retinal diseases.

________________________________________________________________________

Kimberly Papp BSc (immunology and infection) is a medical student at the University of Alberta. Kim is currently working with Geoff Casey in characterizing the innate immune response of retinal pigment epithelium cells, with applications in viral-mediated gene therapy.