William J, Brunken, PhD

Dr. William J, Brunken

William J, Brunken, Ph.D., Professor and Director of Ophthalmic Research, Departments of Cell Biology and Ophthalmology, SUNY Downstate Medical Center.

Professor Brunken developed his interest in vision research as an undergraduate at the Edward S. Harkness Eye Institute of Columbia University. He completed his BS in biology (magna cum laude) at Long Island University and did his doctoral dissertation work at SUNY Stony Brook and New York University Medical Center working with retinal researchers Drs Paul Witkovsky and Harvey Karten studying the organization of the elasmobranch visual system. In 1983, Dr Brunken joined the laboratory of Professor Nigel Daw at Washington University as a post-doctoral fellow; this work began a long interest in the role of serotonin in retinal processing. In 1986 he was appointed research instructor in the department of physiology and biophysics. In 1988, Dr. Brunken joined the faculty of Boston College where his studies of serotonin physiology and pharmacology continued. His laboratory demonstrated for the first time that serotonin reuptake inhibitors could selectively inhibit serotonin transport into neuronal subsets.

In 1990, Dr. Brunken began a long-term collaboration with Dr. Dale Hunter on the role of the extracellular matrix in retinal development. Their work showed that laminins were critically important developmental regulators of cell fate and structure in the retina, including synaptic integrity of the photoreceptor output synapse. These studies led the award in 1998 of the E. Matlida Ziegler award for innovations in ophthalmology and an invitation as visiting scientist at the Cutaneous Biology Research Center of Massachusetts General Hospital/ Harvard Medical School. During this period Dr Brunken, together with members of Dr. Robert Burgesson's laboratory identified four new extracellular matrix molecules and characterized their contribution to brain and ocular development, contributing significantly to our understanding of complex congenital syndromes such as muscle-eye-brain disease and cobblestone lissencephaly.

Dr Brunken joined the Tufts University (2001-2007) and in 2007 joined the SUNY Downstate Medical Center as director of ophthalmic research. This move brought Dr Brunken into the same faculty at the late Dr Robert Barlow; capitalizing on their nearly 30 year friendship; Drs Barlow and Brunken began to formulate plans for a state wide eye institute joining the resources of all five SUNY health science campuses. In 2009, with the announcement of the SUNY REACH initiative, this plan has become a reality.