Peter Koulen, Ph.D.

Professor, Felix and Carmen Sabates / Missouri Endowed Chair in Vision Research, Director of Basic Research, Vision Research Center
Department(s) of Biomedical Sciences, Ophthalmology
Section: Neurosciences
Vision Research Center
816-235-6773
Education and Background

M.S. - Johannes Gutenberg University
Ph.D. - Max Planck Institute
Ph.D. - Yale University

Meet Peter Koulen
What do you enjoy doing outside of regular work?

I like to give back. I volunteer helping a number of national agencies, trying to determine our next steps in eye research and issues like traumatic eye injury.

What other jobs have you had outside of your research career?

I made it through graduate school working as a scuba instructor. It was a nice combination of science and fun. I also worked as a chef’s assistant, cleaning vegetables and washing dishes in a restaurant right next to the Parliament building, Germany’s equivalent to the U.S. Congress. I met and interacted with some very interesting customers from all walks of life.

Where was the most exotic place you ever went scuba diving?

It was kind of a crazy decision to go there, but the most interesting place was scuba diving in the Red Sea during Gulf War 1. At the time, it was very cheap … and much more fun than waiting tables.

How did you get started doing research?

My life has been determined by role models. Studying chemistry and cell biology was determined by a very influential high school teacher. In college, I started to get bored with these subjects when, luckily, I ran into someone who was a leader in retina research. He became my mentor for my master’s and Ph.D. projects.

Research Focus

Therapy development for chronic diseases of the eye and brain.

An internationally recognized expert in biophysics, biochemistry and physiology of nerve cells, Koulen’s research has been funded since 2002 by national and international foundations and agencies. These include the NIH National Eye Institute, NIH National Institute on Aging  and the NIH National Cancer Institute.

Research Summary

Dr. Koulen is a Professor of Ophthalmology and Biomedical Sciences and the Felix and Carmen Sabates Missouri Endowed Chair in Vision Research at the UMKC School of Medicine. He trained at the Max-Planck-Institute for Brain Research, Yale University and the Marine Biological Laboratory. His research focuses on basic research on and therapy development for chronic diseases of the eye and brain. He is an internationally recognized expert in biophysics, biochemistry and physiology of nerve cells and his research has been funded continually since 2002 by national and international foundations and agencies including the NIH’s National Eye Institute, National Institute on Aging, National Cancer Institute, National Center for Research Resources, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and the U.S. DOD among others. As principal or co-investigator for over $20 million in extramural grant funding for research studies, Dr. Koulen’s research program has fundamental relevance to basic science, translational research and therapy development as evidenced by over 120 peer-reviewed publications in scientific journals, and 10 book chapters. Dr. Koulen has over 25 years of experience in the fields of neuroscience and eye research, drug development, translational research, biological sciences, biostatistics, and routinely interprets complex data sets with distinct public health significance. Dr. Koulen serves as reviewer for more than 50 professional scientific journals, serves on over 15 editorial boards and is editor in chief of two scientific journals. He is a review panel member for several national and international funding agencies including the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Defense and other national and international government agencies and research foundations. The University of Missouri – Kansas City Board of Trustees recognized Dr. Koulen with the N.T. Veatch Award for Distinguished Research and Creativity. Through this Faculty Award, UMKC and the UMKC Trustees are recognizing the very best faculties, who have distinguished themselves through scholarship and creativity.

Vision research

Degeneration or acute damage of nerve cells in the retina is a major cause of visual loss and blindness in the United States and worldwide. As diseases such as glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy affect significant and increasing portions of the U.S. population, including minorities affected by disparities in health care delivery, determining causes, mechanisms of action and subsequently potential treatment strategies will contribute to improving health care, health and performance requiring visual tasks.

The Vision Research Center was founded as and is a well-established collaboration of several UMKC schools and Kansas City Medical Centers and thus offers an unprecedented interdisciplinary synergy with a unified goal: to better diagnose, prevent, and treat eye disease and vision disorders through translational research in order to make a difference in the lives of tens of millions of people worldwide. To this end, the center conducts federally and industry funded basic, translational and clinical research to develop new medical therapies and offers patient care in all subspecialties of ophthalmology. The center’s nationally recognized excellence in research, patient care and medical education contribute to UMKC’s strengths in the life sciences. Objectives of the Vision Research Center are to:

  • Provide a direct avenue for basic and translational research in eye and related diseases,
  • Transfer basic science findings seamlessly into practical use with patients through translational research,
  • Develop new therapy approaches urgently needed by physicians in the US and worldwide,
  • Provide educational excellence,
  • Ensure patients receive the most advanced medical treatments available,
  • Become a national center of excellence for eye research.

Additional Publications and Links of Interest