New York, NY, December, 2014 -- With the approval of 33 new grants to individual scientists and 24 grants to departments of ophthalmology, Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB), the leading foundation supporting eye research, has completed its final round of grant making for 2014, bringing RPB's total funding for vision research to $10.7 million for the year. RPB provides highly flexible support to medical schools throughout the United States, allowing them to pursue innovative investigations into the causes, treatment, and prevention of all blinding diseases. RPB currently supports 53 departments of ophthalmology and 137 individual researchers.
"Our goal is to catalyze the translation of the most promising and important research into treatments for those who have lost vision," says Brian F. Hofland, PhD, President. "RPB strategically targets its investments by assessing the needs of the vision research community and the productivity of vision science labs."
Erik M. Ullian, Ph.D., University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine (RPB Disney Award for Amblyopia Research). Dr. Ullian discussing results with a postdoctoral fellow during an experiment for a project investigating mechanisms by which cells projecting from one eye compete with, and compensate for, input from the other eye – a project to elucidate the mechanisms underlying amblyopia, a pathological imbalance in retinal input. Genetic rescue experiments are also underway to provide information about feasibility and critical period for gene-delivery based treatment of amblyopia.
"All of RPB's grants are designed to move the field of eye science closer to understanding disease causes and mechanisms, and to developing treatments, cures and reversals of those diseases," adds Hofland. "A creative breakthrough can come from a researcher at any time and we want to ensure that he or she has adequate support to continue the arc of their work. For instance, the recent discovery that inexpensive and already-FDA-approved HIV drugs may treat both the wet and dry forms of macular degeneration was partially funded by an RPB grant."
The current round of RPB grants includes the new RPB Stein Innovation Award for researchers with primary appointments outside of Ophthalmology. Among the research funded within this new grant category are studies intended to:
Combine adaptive optics scanning laser ophthalmoscopy (AOSLO) with high resolution functional testing of vision, a combination that represents the next frontier in retina imaging;
Refine and deploy a new retinal camera for a higher resolution of capillary remodeling and retinal blood flow, with analyses algorithms that will enable tracking of microvascular structure changes as early manifestations of diabetic eye disease;
Determine the first molecular steps in the cascade of events that causes subsets of ganglion cells to die in order to design neuro-protective interventions to insulate cells from glaucomatous stressors; and
Create a DNA-based assay to test drugs known to inhibit pathways that lead to growth and metastasis of uveal melanomas.
"With more people developing age-related eye diseases, and with public polls showing that Americans want more money directed at research to develop treatments for those diseases, it is critical that RPB maintains its broad support for vision research," says Diane S. Swift, Chair of the RPB Board of Trustees.