Eric Pearlman, Ph.D.
Case Western Reserve University
Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences
2085 Adelbert Road, Institute of Pathology, Rm 109
Cleveland, Ohio 44106
Phone: (216) 368-1856 Fax: (216) 368-3171
Research Focus: Microbial keratitis
I received my undergraduate degree in Parasitology from the University of Glasgow, my masters degree in Microbiology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and my PhD in Microbiology at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in San Antonio. I came to Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) as a post-doctoral fellow in 1988 and have been on the CWRU faculty since 1993. For the past 10 years I have been the Research Director for the Department of Ophthalmology and am the principal investigator on a P30 Core grant and T32 training grant. My research has focused on understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying bacterial, fungal and parasite infections of the cornea (microbial keratitis), with the long-term goal of developing novel approaches to prevention and treatment of these blinding diseases.
During the first stage of my academic career in eye research, I studied an insidious insect – transmitted parasitic disease called river blindness, which is prevalent in much of sub-Saharan Africa and causes blindness in individuals of all ages, frequently affecting young men and women of working age. The microscopic nematodes migrate through the skin and when they enter the eye, cause severe inflammation that destroys both the cornea and the retina. I was part of a group of researchers who showed that it was symbiotic bacteria living in the nematodes rather than nematodes themselves that caused the inflammation leading to blindness. Partly as a result of this work (published in Science in 2002), there are clinical trials using antibiotics to treat this disease. I also made multiple trips to west Africa to study the disease in the field.
In 2005/2006, there was an outbreak of contact lens related corneal infections in the USA, northern Europe and the UK that were very difficult to treat and which resulted in corneal transplants and in severe cases loss of the whole eye. The cause was a filamentous fungus that was associated with use of a specific lens care product that did not kill the organisms. I was involved in collaborative studies that examined the deficiency of the products and characterized some of the clinical isolates; however, fungal infections are also the main cause of corneal ulcers in hot and humid regions of the USA and worldwide, where spores enter the cornea following injury, germinate and hyphae spread throughout the tissue. My research has focused on identifying fungal genes that contribute to the virulence of the organisms and we have identified and are testing novel therapeutic approaches targets for this disease. I also examine the host response to these fungi in the cornea using human cells and animal models, I am also engaged in fungal research at the Aravind Eye Hospital in south India, which has a very high incidence of fungal keratitis.
The main focus of my research is on the regulatory role of neutrophils in bacterial and fungal infections, and we recently identified and characterized a novel sub-population of neutrophils that produce and respond to IL-17A (Nature Immunology 2014).