Monica M. Jablonski, Ph.D., is a Professor in the Department of Ophthalmology in the College of Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Her research focuses on investigating and identifying treatments and therapies for eye-related diseases, primarily glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Dr. Jablonski received her Ph.D. in corneal physiology from the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and completed a postdoctoral research fellowship in retinal cell biology at the Cullen Eye Institute at the Baylor College of Medicine. She joined UTHSC in January 1997 after serving as a research instructor at the Cullen Eye Institute and as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Science at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
Dr. Jablonski’s recent research focuses on identifying ways to improve drug delivery and treatment efficacy for glaucoma patients. She developed an extended release, a once-daily topical microemulsion-based formulation that delivers a drug to target tissue deep within the eye. A bioadhesive ingredient in the formulation keeps the microemulsion in contact with the cornea for a longer duration, allowing the drug to gradually release and maintain a sustained lower intraocular pressure (IOP). Tests show this formulation reduces IOP by 40% and keeps it low for at least 24 hours. Dr. Jablonski’s goal is to develop the formulation and bring the treatment to market. This motivation led her to found OculoTherapy, LLC in January 2014, a startup company which currently holds an option to take a worldwide commercial patent license from UTRF. A patent for the formulation is pending. Although her current focus is on glaucoma, Dr. Jablonski anticipates the formulation can be coupled with other drugs to treat a range of eye-related diseases.
Another area of interest for Dr. Jablonski concerns developing a therapeutic for AMD from a naturally derived glycan, NA3. Her first patent, issued in January 2012, was for NA3 and related compounds as therapies for AMD and other retinal diseases. Dr. Jablonski received a second patent in October 2015 for developing a nanoparticle formulation for NA3. This formulation contains slowly degrading nanoparticles that are loaded with NA3. Once injected into the eye, the nanoparticles facilitate the gradual release of NA3. Although the concept is innovative and works well, the nanoparticle formulation is difficult to make and scale up. Switching directions, Dr. Jablonski is working to create a once-daily topical delivery therapy for AMD, similar to the one she developed for glaucoma, that loads NA3 into a microemulsion that can be applied to the eye.
Dr. Jablonski enjoys collaborating with researchers across the university in projects related to her main focus areas of glaucoma and AMD. For example, Dr. Jablonski partnered with Dr. Vanessa Morales-Tirado, Assistant Professor in the Department of Ophthalmology and the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Biochemistry, to develop a method for isolating and enriching retinal ganglion cells. These cells are frequently used by researchers, but obtaining pure retinal ganglion cells can be a challenge. Together, Dr. Jablonski and Dr. Morales-Tirado’s labs developed a method using flow cytometry technology to isolate primary retinal ganglion cells that can be used for a range of research purposes.
Dr. Jablonski’s interest in developing therapies for eye-related diseases grew from her postdoctoral research at Baylor, yet she credits her holistic research approach to her graduate school mentor, Dr. Henry F. Edelhauser – a leader in translational vision research. It was from Dr. Edelhauser that Dr. Jablonski learned the importance of taking basic research findings and identifying ways to transform them into products that can help people. This philosophy guides Dr. Jablonski’s lab work, from envisioning each step from start to finish to bringing together collaborators and experts to help her answer research questions.
UTRF is a key supporter of Dr. Jablonski’s work.
“We couldn’t do our work without them,” she says.
Dr. Jablonski has worked closely with Dr. Lakita Cavin, UTRF Senior Staff Attorney, over the years and is grateful for her expertise, whether it’s guiding her through the patent process or helping her connect with potential licensees. Dr. Jablonski has also been a recipient of funding through the UTRF Maturation Fund, notably receiving grants in 2012 and 2018 to support her glaucoma research efforts.