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Tuncay first to complete NEI international fellowship in ocular genetics

Intramural program aims to expand the pool of clinician-scientists around the globe
September 26, 2022

Tuncay learned to prepare slides of zebrafish retina for imaging of blood vessels, a skill she’ll use in her research of inherited retinal diseases in Türkiye. Credit: Tuncay

Fulya Yaylacıoğlu Tuncay, M.D., Ph.D., said she gained crucial experience in translational medicine as the first participant in an ocular genetics fellowship program sponsored by NEI and the International Council of Ophthalmology. She takes home to her native Türkiye hands-on experience, momentum, and a new network of collaborators.  

“The goal of the NEI-ICO program is to train the next generation of global leaders in vision. The fellowship incorporates both clinical and bench research,” said Gyan “John” Prakash, Ph.D., MBA, director, Office of International Program Activities at NEI.

Tuncay, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Health Sciences, Ankara, Türkiye, arrived at NEI September 2021 for a year-long fellowship in the NEI Ophthalmic Genomics Laboratory.

Tuncay analyzed data from the NEI’s National Ophthalmic Disease Genotyping and Phenotyping Network (eyeGENE®) to explore the genetic causes of familial exudative vitreoretinopathy (FEVR), a rare inherited disorder of retinal angiogenesis associated with visual loss, especially in the pediatric patients. FEVR affects vision by preventing blood vessels from forming at the edges of the retina, which reduces the blood supply to the light-sensitive tissue. She then used a zebrafish model to study the vascular origins of the disease, learning to prepare zebrafish retina for blood vessel imaging.

“Combining benchside and bedside data to inform our understanding of inherited eye diseases in humans was a great experience,” said Tuncay.

In Türkiye, Tuncay plans to continue her work with zebrafish and hopes to identify clinical study cohorts by establishing patient registries. She also has plans for how to share the knowledge she gained at NIH.  

“I am excited to see where Dr. Tuncay’s research takes her when she returns home, and I look forward to being her collaborator and colleague,” said Robert Hufnagel, M.D., Ph.D., Tuncay’s mentor and director of the NEI Ophthalmic Genomics Laboratory.

For more information about the ocular genetics fellowship, visit

No new fellows are being recruited in the program at this time due to the interruption related to the pandemic. NEI hopes to restart the program in the future.



Kathryn DeMott
Science Writer