Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences at the Eye Institute
Joel Miesfeld, PhD

Joel B. Miesfeld, PhD

Assistant Professor


  • Eye Institute
  • 925 N. 87th St.
    Milwaukee, WI 53226

Contact Information


PhD, Cell Biology, Neurobiology, and Anatomy, Medical College of Wisconsin
BS, Biology, University of WI-Madison


I was born in Wisconsin and raised in Sheboygan, where I developed my curiosity and passion for science. As a student at Sheboygan North High School my interests in the biological sciences grew due to my participation in AP Biology and a biology independent study, both led by Amy Reinholtz. Amy’s passion for science was infectious and she encouraged me to apply for the Biocore program as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This decision accelerated my path to becoming an academic researcher, through the introduction of graduate level critical thinking by Drs. Michelle Harris and Janet Batzli, even though I did not recognize it at the time.

After receiving my undergraduate degree, I worked as a vitamin chemist and small animal study technician before I realized I wanted to ask and pursue my own scientific curiosities, leading to my application and acceptance to the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Neuroscience Doctoral Program.

As a PhD candidate I joined the lab of Dr. Brian Link where I investigated the Hippo signaling pathway during neural retina and retinal pigmented epithelium development in zebrafish. The culmination of my graduate school career was winning the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Most Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award.

My next stop was a post doctoral research position at the University of California, Davis under the mentorship and Drs. Tom Glaser and Nadean Brown. Here I studied cis regulation of the retinal ganglion cell (RGC) competence/survival factor ATOH7, as part of studies into how the optic nerve, which is damaged in glaucoma, develops and is maintained. During my time at UC Davis I was awarded the Ruth L. Kirschstein Postdoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (NRSA F32) and Pathway to Independence Award (K99/R00) through the National Eye Institute. Following my postdoctoral career I joined the Medical College of Wisconsin as an Assistant Professor with a primary appointment in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and secondary appointment in the Department of Cell Biology, Neurobiology, and Anatomy in July 2021.

Honors and Awards

Knights Templar Eye Foundation Travel Grant, ARVO, 2019
Friends of the Medical College of Wisconsin Most Outstanding Dissertation Award, 2015
24th Annual Medical College of Wisconsin Research Day Poster Award, 2014
Kayoko Ishizuka International Travel Award, 2014
GRS Visual Systems Development Student/Postdoc Travel Award, 2014
Medical College of Wisconsin Student Travel Award, 2014
GRC Visual Systems Development Student/Postdoc Travel Award, 2012
Medical College of Wisconsin Student Travel Award, 2012
Society for Developmental Biology Student/Postdoc Travel Award, 2011
University of WI-Madison Undergraduate Symposium Presenter, 2007
Educational Outreach project featured in Wisconsin Week Newspaper, 2007

Research Interests

The Miesfeld lab is interested in understanding the gene regulatory networks associated with development and disease of the neural retina, with a focus on retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), the pathogenic target in glaucoma. Through comparisons of natural retinal development with genetic perturbations of genes and cis regulatory elements of interest, we elucidate the mechanisms leading to congenital and adult-onset retinal diseases. We are currently investigating:

  1. The transcription factors, co-activators, co-repressors, and chromatin modifiers contributing to the neural retina/RGC gene regulatory network.
  2. The cis regulatory contribution of the Atoh7 shadow and primary enhancers to Atoh7 transcription during retinal neurogenesis.
  3. The contribution of RGC number as a risk factor for glaucoma.