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Robert B. Hufnagel, M.D., Ph.D.

Lasker Clinical Research Scholar


Contact Information: 301-503-1305

10 Center Drive
Building 10, Room 10N109
Bethesda, Maryland 20814


Rob Hufnagel, a 2021 Lasker Scholar, is dedicated to understanding mechanisms of human genome variation that cause blindness in children. He uses a translational approach combining clinical molecular approaches and developmental biology to improve diagnosis and establish gene:disease and genotype:phenotype relationships. In particular, he uses genomics, stem cell engineering, and gene editing to establish patient-centered disease models for translational and preclinical studies. After receiving his M.D. and Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, Ohio), he completed his Pediatrics and Clinical Genetics residency at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, followed by fellowships in Clinical Ophthalmic Genetics at the National Eye Institute (NEI/NIH) and Clinical Molecular Genetics and Genomics at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI/NIH). He loves spending time with his family and their dog, Helix.

Current research

The goal of our research is to understand the mechanistic basis of human heritable ocular disorders, including those in children and adults with rare eye diseases and syndromes. Causal genetic variation explaining central vision loss in pediatric blinding disorders is poorly understood for two reasons. First, current clinical genetic testing strategies fail to provide a molecular diagnosis in a large proportion of patients. Our understanding of variant pathogenicity is limited both by the rare frequency of these disorders, preventing the creation of large disease-specific population studies, and by a lack of knowledge of the consequences of variation in the noncoding genome. Second, there are no established model systems for diseases of the macula and fovea, two neural retina specializations specific to the high acuity vision present only in humans, certain primates, lizards, and birds. Given that the macula and fovea are morphologically and molecularly distinct tissues, this creates hurdles to pre-clinical studies for gene-directed and cellular replacement therapies.

To address these needs, our research includes clinical molecular diagnostics (Ophthalmic Genomics Laboratory) from patients at the NIH clinical center and through the eyeGENE® program to develop population genomic datasets for rare eye diseases, coupled to scientific investigations (Medical Genetics and Ophthalmic Genomics Unit) validating candidate disease genes and mapping the disease-relevant noncoding genome of eye tissues. Model systems include human cells, mice, zebrafish, and foveate lizards. In this way, we are able to investigate the mechanisms of disease-causing genetic variants from bedside-to-bench using a broad array of tools. In turn, our work will better inform both molecular diagnostics and clinical trial design for treating these rare eye disorders.

Selected publications

1. Sensitive extraction-free SARS-CoV-2 RNA virus detection using a novel RNA preparation method. 
Guan B, Frank KM, Maldonado JO, Beach M, Pelayo E, Warner BM, Hufnagel RB.
medRxiv. 2021 Feb 1:2021.01.29.21250790. doi: 10.1101/2021.01.29.21250790. Preprint.
PMID: 33532808

2. Novel TMEM98, MFRP, PRSS56 variants in a large United States high hyperopia and nanophthalmos cohort.
Prasov L, Guan B, Ullah E, Archer SM, Ayres BM, Besirli CG, Wiinikka-Buesser L, Comer GM, Del Monte MA, Elner SG, Garnai SJ, Huryn LA, Johnson K, Kamat SS, Lieu P, Mian SI, Rygiel CA, Serpen JY, Pawar HS, Brooks BP, Moroi SE, Richards JE, Hufnagel RB.
Sci Rep. 2020 Nov 17;10(1):19986. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-76725-8.
PMID: 33203948

3. Genetic testing for inherited eye conditions in over 6,000 individuals through the eyeGENE network.
Goetz KE, Reeves MJ, Gagadam S, Blain D, Bender C, Lwin C, Naik A, Tumminia SJ, Hufnagel RB.
Am J Med Genet C Semin Med Genet. 2020 Sep;184(3):828-837. doi: 10.1002/ajmg.c.31843. Epub 2020 Sep 7.
PMID: 32893963

4. Genotype-phenotype associations in a large PRPH2-related retinopathy cohort.
Reeves MJ, Goetz KE, Guan B, Ullah E, Blain D, Zein WM, Tumminia SJ, Hufnagel RB.
Hum Mutat. 2020 Sep;41(9):1528-1539. doi: 10.1002/humu.24065. Epub 2020 Jul 5.
PMID: 32531846

5. Disruptive variants of CSDE1 associate with autism and interfere with neuronal development and synaptic transmission.
Guo H, Li Y, Shen L, Wang T, Jia X, Liu L, Xu T, Ou M, Hoekzema K, Wu H, Gillentine MA, Liu C, Ni H, Peng P, Zhao R, Zhang Y, Phornphutkul C, Stegmann APA, Prada CE, Hopkin RJ, Shieh JT, McWalter K, Monaghan KG, van Hasselt PM, van Gassen K, Bai T, Long M, Han L, Quan Y, Chen M, Zhang Y, Li K, Zhang Q, Tan J, Zhu T, Liu Y, Pang N, Peng J, Scott DA, Lalani SR, Azamian M, Mancini GMS, Adams DJ, Kvarnung M, Lindstrand A, Nordgren A, Pevsner J, Osei-Owusu IA, Romano C, Calabrese G, Galesi O, Gecz J, Haan E, Ranells J, Racobaldo M, Nordenskjold M, Madan-Khetarpal S, Sebastian J, Ball S, Zou X, Zhao J, Hu Z, Xia F, Liu P, Rosenfeld JA, de Vries BBA, Bernier RA, Xu ZD, Li H, Xie W, Hufnagel RB, Eichler EE, Xia K.
Sci Adv. 2019 Sep 25;5(9):eaax2166. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aax2166. eCollection 2019 Sep.
PMID: 31579823

Last updated: August 14, 2023