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Forschungsinstitut fuer Augenheilkunde

IN FOCUS: Sandra Wagner

Dr. Sandra Wagner has been awarded a renowned Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) Global Postdoctoral Fellowship by the European Commission to undertake an ambitious and innovative project on myopia research.

Sandra first came to the Institute for Ophthalmic Research (IOR) in Tübingen during her Master's studies at the Zeiss Vision Science Lab in 2015. She then continued with a PhD in the lab of Professor Eberhart Zrenner, and undertook a part of her thesis studies as a Fulbright Visiting Researcher at the State University of New York, College of Optometry. After her graduation, she started a position as a Postdoctoral researcher in the group of Dr. Torsten Strasser.

Sandra’s main area of research is myopia (or nearsightedness), which develops when the eye has grown too long, causing distant objects to be focused in front of the retina. The excessive eye growth increases the risk of serious eye diseases, and with myopia rates rising all over the world, this also puts a great strain on public health systems. Sandra’s research aims at a better understanding of the reasons for myopia development and improving current methods of myopia control in children.

To pursue her research objectives, Sandra recently applied for the highly competitive and prestigious Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) Global Postdoctoral Fellowship in the call of HORIZON-MSCA-2023-PF-01. This Fellowship is awarded to outstanding researchers who aim to acquire new skills and enhanced professional competencies by undertaking international, inter-sectorial mobility. The Fellows can carry out their research for up to 24 months in a non-European state, followed by a return phase of 12 months in an EU Member State or Horizon Europe Associated Country. They are equipped with a versatile training on transferable skills and network activities to improve their career opportunities and support their strive for developing innovative solutions.

After an eight-month evaluation process, the European Commission announced the decision: Sandra ’s project proposal “MyReL” (“Reducing myopia progression with red light therapy: Treatment mechanisms and safety levels”) was one of the successful applications (~15%), enabling Sandra to realize her research plans within a 3-year MSCA Fellowship.

Sandra will spend the first two years of the Fellowship at UC Berkeley, California, USA, in the group of Professor Christine Wildsoet, and the third year in Professor Linda Lundström’s lab at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm, Sweden. In her interdisciplinary, translational project, she will investigate a controversial method known as 'low-level' red-light therapy (LRL), which has shown promise for reducing myopia progression in children by stimulating their retina with short, daily sessions of direct red laser light. However, there have been concerns about the safety of LRL, with reports of retinal damage and vision loss.

Sandra's project aims to answer key questions about the efficacy, underlying mechanism, potential risks, and adverse events of LRL using an appropriate animal model and complementary human studies. Her research in the animal model, performed at UC Berkeley, will assess the structural and functional ocular changes induced by regular retinal exposure to dim red laser light. Sandra will then use these findings to design follow-up studies in humans performed at KTH to improve the understanding and knowledge of LRL therapy for myopic children. The project might thereby enable the development of a safe prototype for low-level red-light therapy and recommendations for optimal digital device settings to control myopia progression in children. Through this work, Sandra hopes to make a significant contribution to the prevention of serious eye disease and reduce the socioeconomic burden related to myopia.

Congratulations to Sandra Wagner for her outstanding achievements. We are confident that she will continue to excel in the future!

Find out more about Sandra’s academic journey in an interview with Ulrike Böhm for the "Women in Research" Blog.

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