Dr. Sayoko Moroi Has Big Plans for the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences

Sayoko (Sy) Moroi, MD, PhDSayoko (Sy) Moroi, MD, PhD was recently named the chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, and the William H. Havener, MD Chair in Ophthalmology Research.

As she prepares for her new role, Dr. Moroi is concentrating on her goals for the department, which includes building upon the existing teleophthalmology program, expanding research, and meeting the growing Columbus population needs. She will join Ohio State in January 2020.

Inspired by her father’s own battle with glaucoma, Dr. Moroi has dedicated much of her career to preventing glaucoma-related blindness. She will be bringing a National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded grant that she has received to study physiologic factors that influence eye pressure variation and treatment response in glaucoma patients. With new faculty colleague, Raymond Gao, PhD, Dr. Moroi plans to launch a study to develop genetic risk profiles that will improve glaucoma outcomes by replacing trial-and-error glaucoma treatments with precision medicine-based treatments based on individual patient characteristics.

“One of my goals is to prevent glaucoma-related blindness,” Dr. Moroi says. “While we may not cure glaucoma in my lifetime, if we can take small steps toward preventing glaucoma-related blindness, that is huge progress for patients with glaucoma."

Dr. Moroi hopes to investigate different factors that may cause eye pressure variation, such as fluid production, fluid drainage and venous pressure in the eye. The study will also look at whether these physiologic factors account for variations in treatment response to commonly used glaucoma eye drops.

“When we prescribe medical therapy to treat glaucoma, it is trial-and-error to start typically with a certain drug class," Dr. Moroi says. "Then patients come back several times to see whether or not their eye pressure is responding to treatment. Clearly with this approach, even with new effective medicines, there are some patients who progress to blindness.”

“One of my goals is to prevent glaucoma-related blindness,” Dr. Moroi says. “While we may not cure glaucoma in my lifetime, if we can take small steps toward preventing glaucoma-related blindness, that is huge progress for patients with glaucoma." 

Dr. Moroi and Dr. Gao's study will examine the genetics of glaucoma and glaucoma risk factors. The research will focus on identifying which patients may be more likely to have significant pressure fluctuations, or who may be more likely to respond to a certain treatment. She hopes the study will lead to more personalized, precision treatment plans for glaucoma patients. Dr. Moroi is optimistic that more precision medicine-based treatments will be successfully developed and launched in ophthalmology.

"We can learn from the successes from our cancer colleagues," she explains. "After fundamental research in cancer genetics and cell biology, there are several cancers that can be cured. Furthermore, the research has been applied to improve several cancer treatments that have drastically improved survivor rates. We want to use that same tactic to improve glaucoma outcomes in order to prevent blindness.”

Dr. Moroi has been involved in 40 different research projects that span patient outcomes, glaucoma pharmacology, genetics, intraocular pressure variability and population health. She has served as principal investigator, site principal investigator or co-investigator on more than 30 funded studies from either industry or the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation.

“As we advance our understanding of eye pressure variation and drug response variation, my dream is that patients can be profiled for risk of blindness using a combination of standard glaucoma tests and genetic tests,” Dr. Moroi says “Then, we can combine the clinic+genetic risk score with other data to move quickly and prevent the disease from progressing.”

Dr. Moroi plans to build upon Dr. Matthew Ohr's teleophthalmology program.

“Teleophthalmology is an exciting field,” she says. “It will help us develop better strategies in preventing diabetes-related eye complications by giving us tools for early detection. I think the teleophthalmology will help patients be more aware of the consequences of uncontrolled diabetes and better motivate them to take healthier actions."

Dr. Moroi is joining The Ohio State University from the University of Michigan, where she has grown the number of faculty across sub-specialties to transform their care model to a collaborative co-management system. She has received multiple awards and invited lectureships, including the 2018 Robert N. Shaffer Lecture, which the American Academy of Ophthalmology awards to only one individual each year.

Dr. Moroi earned her MD and PhD at The Ohio State University in 1989. She completed an internal medicine internship at Duke University, an ophthalmology residency at the Duke University Eye Center, a research fellowship at Duke and a clinical fellowship in glaucoma at the Kellogg Eye Center at the University of Michigan. At the University of Michigan, she is the Jerome Jacobson Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, chief of the Division of Glaucoma and director of the Glaucoma Fellowship.

The Ohio State University Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences is thrilled to welcome Dr. Sy Moroi back to Ohio State. She is an innovative leader and a talented researcher who will grow our ophthalmology program to be one of the top in the country.

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