MacDonald Lab

IMIan M. MacDonald MSc MD CM is a Professor in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, University of Alberta and recently stepped down after four terms as its Chair. From 2007-2008, he served as Branch Chief of Ophthalmic Genetics at the National Eye Institute of the NIH in Bethesda, MD. A McGill graduate in Medicine, Dr. MacDonald completed Ophthalmology residency training at the University of Ottawa and Clinical Genetics fellowship training at the University of Ottawa, Queen’s University, Kingston and the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto. He was a Career Scientist of the Ontario Ministry of Health at the University of Ottawa prior to moving to Edmonton in 1992.

His main research interest is inherited retinal disorders, in particular, maculopathies and choroideremia. In 2009, in recognition of his work in Canada to foster the development of academic ophthalmology, he was elected to as a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences.

Research Support: Alberta Innovates-Health Solutions; Choroideremia Research Foundation, Canada Inc.; Foundation Fighting Blindness, Canada; Canadian Institutes for Health Research, Canadian Foundation for Innovation

Hariri AH, Velaga SB, Girach A, Ip MS, Le PV, Lam BL, MacDonald IM, et al. Measurement and Reproducibility of Preserved Ellipsoid Zone Area and Preserved Retinal Pigment Epithelium Area in Eyes With Choroideremia. Am J Ophthalmol.2017 Jul;179:110-117.

Radziwon A, Arno G, K Wheaton D, McDonagh EM, Baple EL, Webb-Jones K, MacDonald IM, et al. Single-base substitutions in the CHM promoter as a cause of choroideremia. Hum Mutat. 2017 Jun;38(6):704-715.

Dimopoulos I, Radziwon A, St Laurent CD, MacDonald I. Choroideremia. Curr Opin Ophthalmol. 2017 May 17.

Dimopoulos I, Tseng C, MacDonald I. Microperimetry as an Outcome Measure in Choroideremia Trials: Reproducibility and Beyond. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci.2016 Aug 1;57(10):4151-61.


Matthew Benson MD is a graduate student and resident in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and he is completing a Master of Science degree in the MacDonald lab. He received his Medical Degree from the University of Alberta in 2015.

Matthew is particularly interested in inherited retinal dystrophies and he is currently investigating the mechanism of disease in a patient with a peroxisomal biogenesis disorder. He is the 2018 recipient of the Foundation Fighting Blindness Canada Clinician-Scientist Emerging Leader Award.


Geoff Casey BSc (EE), BSc (Mol Gen) is currently completing a Master of Science degree in Medical Genetics in the MacDonald lab. He has received Bachelor of Science degrees in Electrical Engineering/Nanotechnology and Molecular Biology from the University of Alberta.

Geoff is contributing to the development of novel viral vectors for the treatment of genetic ocular disorders. He is performing preclinical characterizations of viral vectors and evaluating novel methods of mitigating immune responses against these vectors.


Lance Doucette PhD is a Research Associate in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, University of Alberta under the supervision of Dr. Ian M. MacDonald since April of 2017. He completed his PhD in Human Genetics at Memorial University in 2012 where he studied the genetic cause of inherited blindness in the Newfoundland population.

In 2013, he moved to the University of Alberta as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Medical Genetics under the supervision of Dr. Michael Walter where he studied the role of a developmental gene, FOXC1 and its role in the molecular biology of glaucoma.
In Dr. MacDonald’s Laboratory, Dr. Doucette’s interest is understanding the genetics and molecular biology behind inherited ocular disorders, particularly macular and retinal dystrophies. His expertise is in identifying disease genes through next generation sequencing, and using molecular biology techniques to understand how these genes are involved in eye disease.

Rasnitsyn A, Doucette L, Seifi M, Footz T, Raymond V, Walter MA. FOXC1 modulates MYOC secretion through regulation of the exocytic proteins RAB3GAP1, RAB3GAP2 and SNAP25. PLoS One.2017 Jun 2;12(6):e0178518.

Doucette LP, Rasnitsyn A, Seifi M, Walter MA. The interactions of genes, age, and environment in glaucoma pathogenesis. Surv Ophthalmol.2015 Jul-Aug;60(4):310-26.



Manlong Xu MD PhD is a clinical research fellow in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the University of Alberta under the supervision of Dr. Ian M. MacDonald since December 2015. She completed her PhD in Vision Science and Biology (joint degree) at University of Waterloo in 2015, where she studied the individual and combined toxicity of UV radiation and chemicals on the eye.

Previously, Dr. Xu was a physician specialized in internal medicine (with special training in rheumatology) in China, where she did clinical studies on ankylosing spondylitis and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).

 In Dr. MacDonald’s laboratory, Dr. Xu engages in clinical research on the natural history and gene therapy for retinal degeneration (especially choroideremia). Her research interest is visual field progression in inherited eye disorders.

Xu, M., McCanna, D.J. & Sivak, J.G. 2015, “Use of the Viability Reagent PrestoBlue in Comparison with Alamarblue and MTT to Assess the Viability of Human Corneal Epithelial Cells”, Journal of Pharmacological and Toxicological Methods, vol.71, pp. 1-7.

Hu, Z.,Xu, M.,Wang, Q., Qi, J., Lv, Q., Gu, J.. 2015, “Colour Doppler ultrasonography can be used to detect the changes of sacroiliitis and peripheral enthesitis in patients with ankylosing spondylitis during adalimumab treatment”, Clinical and experimental rheumatology, 2015 Nov-Dec;33(6):844-50.

Xu, M., Sivak, J.G. & McCanna, D.J. 2013, “Comparison of the Effects of Ophthalmic Solutions on Human Corneal Epithelial Cells Using Fluorescent Dyes”,Journal of Ocular Pharmacology and Therapeutics, vol. 29, no. 9, pp. 794-802.


Yi (Fay) Zhai, MD, PhD is a clinical research fellow in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the University of Alberta under the supervision of Dr. Ian M. MacDonald. After receiving her medical degree from Zhejiang University, she passed the medical licensing examination and became an ophthalmologist in China. In 2016, she completed her PhD in Medicine with an ophthalmic specialty at Zhejiang University.

Dr. Zhai has a strong clinical research interest in inherited eye disorders. Her previous research projects include congenital cataract, age-related macular degeneration and hereditary retinal degeneration. In Dr. MacDonald’s laboratory, Dr. Zhai focuses on the clinical research and genetic therapy of retinal degeneration (especially choroideremia).

Zhu S, Xi XB, Duan TL, Zhai Y, Li J, Yan YB, & Yao K. The cataract-causing mutation G75V promotes γS-crystallin aggregation by modifying and destabilizing the native structure. Int J Biol Macromol. 2018 May 30; 117: 807-814.

Zhai Y, Li J, Yu W, Zhu S, Yu Y, Wu M, Sun G, Gong X, & Yao K. Targeted Exome Sequencing of Congenital Cataracts Related Genes: Broadening the Mutation Spectrum and Genotype-Phenotype Correlations in 27 Chinese Han Families. Sci Rep. 2017 Apr 27;7(1):1219.

Chen Z, Zhai Y, Zhang W, Teng Y, & Yao K. Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms of the Sirtuin 1 (SIRT1) Gene are Associated with age-Related Macular Degeneration in Chinese Han Individuals: A Case–Control Pilot Study. Medicine (Baltimore). 2015 Dec; 94(49): e2238.


Jessica Lawrence MSc CGC CCGC is a genetic counsellor in the Department of Ophthalmology at the Royal Alexandra Hospital. She received her undergraduate degree in Genetics from the University of Manitoba in 2016, and her master of science degree in Genetic Counselling from McGill University in 2019. Jessica is a passionate clinical genetics professional with a strong interest in the treatment of inherited ocular disorders and the impacts of these disorders on individuals and their families.




Kimberly Papp is an undergraduate student in her final year of her Bachelor of Science, specializing in Immunology and Infection. Kim worked with Dr. MacDonald’s laboratory team for her summer studentship in 2019, using CRISPR/Cas9 to create a knockout cell line as an extension of Dr. Matthew Benson’s research on peroxisomal biogenesis disorders. Kim is currently completing a 499 research project in Dr. MacDonald’s laboratory related to Geoff Casey’s research, characterizing the innate immune response of retinal pigment epithelium cells.