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About Our Research

The lab of Fiona McDonnell, PhD, is focused on how to improve treatments for lowering intraocular pressure by understanding the mechanisms behind what causes it. Dr. McDonnell has focused her work on the conventional outflow pathway and the cells and tissues that are responsible for aqueous humor drainage.

Dr. McDonnell does this through gaining a better understanding of the physiology of how the different tissues involved in glaucoma become damaged, and how the processes that should maintain them become dysregulated. Her research uses elements of physiology, cell biology, biomedical engineering, and pharmacology to elucidate what is occurring in the trabecular meshwork, Schlemm's canal, and distal vessels of the conventional outflow pathway.

Research Interests

  • Glaucoma
  • Conventional Outflow
  • Distal Outflow
  • Extracellular Matrix
  • Trabecular Meshwork
  • Perfusion
  • Exosomes
  • Extracellular vesicles

Extracellular Vesicles

A currently funded study in the lab examines how nanovesicles—called exosomes—regulate extracellular matrix materials in the trabecular meshwork, and how this is affected and interrupted in glaucoma.

Exosomes are currently cutting edge research in the areas of biomarkers and drug delivery due to their ubiquitous release from every cell type in the body. This research aims to identify exosomes released specifically from the trabecular meshwork to determine their effects in the conventional outflow pathway compared to other anterior segment extracellular vesicles.


Dr. McDonnell is a leading expert in a specialized technique called perfusion. Using human donor tissue and animal tissue, she can gain insights into how the cells and tissues of the eye respond to drug treatment, surgical interventions, and other manipulations.

The McDonnell Lab, based at the John A. Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah, will be the third institution worldwide to house an iOnlyHuman perfusion system, designed to measure the function of human donor eyes. Dr. McDonnell worked with a biomedical engineer to help in the design and testing of iOnlyHuman, developed from an animal-based perfusion system (iPerfusion). She will continually work to improve the design to get the most accurate data possible from this technique.