Skip to Main Content

Preventing Eye Injury is Goal of New UMass Lowell Research

$1.4 Million Grant to Fund Study into Link Between Retinal Detachment, Lifting

UMass Lowell Image
UMass Lowell researchers will evaluate whether activities such as heavy lifting cause retinal detachment.


Contacts:  Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or
                 Christine Gillette, 978-934-2209 or

LOWELL, Mass. – A UMass Lowell researcher who is studying the cause of serious eye injuries has received $1.4 million from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) toward that effort.

Prof. David Kriebel, a Gloucester resident and faculty member in UMass Lowell’s Department of Work Environment, is evaluating whether preventable factors such as the muscle strain that comes with lifting heavy objects – a common activity among jobs that require physical labor – can cause retinal detachment, a condition that can result in vision loss.

The retina pulling away from blood vessels is a common medical emergency that leads to irreversible vision damage. Until recently, there were no practical ways to prevent retinal detachment. Emerging research, however, identifies a strong link between the traumatic eye injury and preventable factors such as heavy physical exertion, which may strain the retina.

“The object of our study is to evaluate the risk of retinal detachment from heavy physical activities like lifting, pushing and pulling,” Kriebel said. “If the findings of this study confirm the association between this activity and retinal detachment, our research team will be able to recommend strategies for preventing this dangerous ophthalmologic emergency. For example, many jobs in manufacturing, shipping and health care that involve heavy lifting can be modified to use mechanical lifting devices.”

Prof. Stefano Mattioli of the University of Bologna, one of Kriebel’s research colleagues, in 2008 published the first study that identified a strong association between heavy lifting in the workplace and risk of retinal detachment. This research also reported a strong association between retinal detachment and obesity, which will be further investigated in the UMass Lowell initiative.

The UMass Lowell study will be conducted over four years in collaboration with the Reliant Medical Group of Worcester. UMass Lowell Research Prof. Susan Sama will manage the NIOSH-funded project along with Rebecca Gore, senior biostatistician, and Prof. Bryan Buchholz, chairman of the Department of Work Environment. The research team will evaluate data from a large group of new cases of patients who have detached retinas. The study will also provide research opportunities for UMass Lowell students to collect and analyze data.

UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its 17,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, engineering, education, fine arts, health, humanities, liberal arts, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be ready for work, for life and for all the world offers.