Rajesh C. Rao M.D. is Assistant Professor in the Departments of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences, and Pathology at the University of Michigan; Director of Retina Service at VA Ann Arbor Healthsystem; and the Leslie H. and Abigail S. Wexner Emerging Scholar at the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine. He completed his internship at Evanston Hospital/McGaw Medical Center of Northwestern University and ophthalmology residency at Harvard Medical School/Mass Eye & Ear. He obtained additional 2-year subspecialty training in vitreoretinal surgery, uveitis, and ocular oncology at Barnes Retina Institute (a joint program of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and The Retina Institute). Since becoming faculty at the University of Michigan, Dr. Rao has been an NIH/NEI K12 and K08-funded clinician-scientist at Kellogg Eye Center, and has earned awards and grants from Research to Prevent Blindness, E. Matilda Ziegler Foundation, Knights Templar Eye Foundation, Alcon Research Institute, and Univ. Michigan Biointerfaces Institute. In 2015, he became the youngest member inducted into the Macula Society and was inducted into The Retina Society in 2017. The focus of his translational research is the epigenetic regulation of retinal development and disease in order to identify new biomarkers, therapeutic targets, and applications of stem cells for blinding diseases such as age-related macular degeneration and eye cancers.
Areas of Interest
Stem cells for regeneration of retina and central nervous system; epigenetics and chromatin modifying enzymes; age-related macular degeneration; diabetic retinopathy; retinal dystrophies; retinal detachment repair; tumors of the eye. The goal of my research is to use stem cell and epigenetic-based strategies to promote retinal regeneration, reduce scar and tumor formation.
The long-term goal of our work is to use stem cell biology and epigenetics as languages to decipher the pathogenesis of retinal disease. To understand the role of epigenetic mechanisms in retinal development and disease, we employ conditional knockout mice, and wild-type and mutant embryonic stem cell-derived retinal tissues with alterations in specific chromatin modifying enzymes.
The explosion of small-molecule epigenetic modifiers in drug development for cancer and inflammatory disorders allow us a new toolbox to assess whether some of these agents target critical pathways required for retinal cell survival in a variety of retinal degenerative, fibrotic, and neoplastic disorders.
We collaborate with researchers and clinicians in a variety of departments and programs, including the Department of Pathology, Taubman Consortium for Stem Cell Therapies, and University of Michigan-wide faculty involved in epigenetics and drug discovery. Through these collaborative efforts, we hope to develop novel pharmacologic gene and cell-based clinical therapies to promote regeneration, and reduce scar and tumor formation in patients with blinding retinal diseases.
Diseases and surgery of the retina and vitreous, including retinal detachment, diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration, retinal vascular disease, ocular trauma, ocular inflammation, macular and submacular surgery, and surgical management of complex retinal detachment
Make an Appointment
Honors & Awards
- US Provisional Patent, Compositions and Methods to Derive Mesodermal Lineage Cells and Mixed Tissue Organoids from Embryonic Stem Cells, Filed January 18, 2018
- Early Career Reviewer, Biology of the Visual System (BVS) Study Section, Center for Scientific Review, National Institutes of Health
- Elected Member, The Retina Society
- Grant Reviewer, Merit Review Program, Clinical Science Research & Development Service, Office of Research and Development, Department of Veterans Affairs
- Mentored Clinical Scientist Research Career Development Award; National Institutes of Health, “Epigenetic Control of Retinal Development”
- Scientific Review Committee, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Medical Research Fellows Program
- Young Investigator Grant; The E. Matilda Ziegler Foundation for the Blind, Inc. (EMZ Foundation), “Epigenetic dissection of hereditary macular degeneration: a stem cell approach”
- Young Physician-Scientist Award, American Society for Clinical Investigation
- Medical School - Yale University, 2007
- Residency - Ophthalmology, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Harvard University, 2011
- Research Fellowship - Schepens Eye Research Institute, Harvard University, 2011
- Fellowship - Vitreoretinal Surgery, Joint Fellowship of Washington University and The Retina Institute, St. Louis, MO (formerly Barnes Retina Institute), 2013
- Board Certification - American Board of Ophthalmology