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Research to Prevent Blindness

RPB Announces Stein Innovation Awards

Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) is rolling out a new category of grants designed to foster collaboration between scientists working within departments of ophthalmology and those in complementary fields. 

The RPB Stein Innovation Awards provide funds to two groups of researchers, both with a common goal of understanding the visual system and the diseases that compromise its function. The awards, $300,000 payable in two payments, are intended to provide seed funding for proposed high-risk/high-gain vision science research which is innovative, cutting-edge, and demonstrates out-of-the-box thinking. The proposed research cannot be funded – previously or currently – by others (NEI, NIH, nonprofits, private funders, etc.). 

"Members of RPB's Scientific Advisory Panel – all outstanding scientists from various fields, with a keen knowledge of ophthalmology – remarked that the applications we received for this new award were among the most exciting they had ever seen as Panel members," said Brian F. Hofland, President, RPB. "If we are going to make significant inroads against the burgeoning tide of vision loss and truly help people, then this is the kind of science we have to encourage and stimulate."

The first round of recently awarded grants was made to four investigators with their primary appointment outside of Ophthalmology to help infuse the vision science field with new perspectives from scientists from the basic sciences and other relevant disciplines, as well as to foster cross-disciplinary collaboration.

Boris C. Bastian, MD, PhD, University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, Department of Dermatology and Pathology, will develop and validate a DNA-based assay that provides proved prognostic information. He also will test drugs known to inhibit pathways that lead to growth and metastasis of uveal melanomas. 30 – 40% of uveal melanomas require enucleation; approximately 50% of patients die of their disease due to liver metastasis. Dr. Bastian will be collaborating with Bertil Damato, MD, PhD (Ophthalmology), who was among the first to offer genetic diagnosis of uveal melanomas.

David H. Brainard, PhD, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Department of Psychology, will collaborate with Jessica Morgan, PhD (Ophthalmology) to combine adaptive optics scanning laser ophthalmoscopy (AOSLO), with high resolution functional testing of vision. This combination represents the next frontier in retina imaging. If successful, their work will also establish a methodology that can be adapted for use in future gene, cell, or small molecular based therapies. 

David R. Williams, PhD, University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry, proposes to refine and deploy a new retinal camera for a higher resolution of capillary remodeling and retinal blood flow, with analyses algorithms that will enable analyses of multiple capillaries. He and collaborator Rajeev S. Ramchandran, MD, MBA (Ophthalmology) will track patients with and without diabetes over time and observe flow and microvascular structure changes as early manifestations of diabetic eye disease.

Robert W. Williams, PhD, University of Tennessee Health Science Center and Chair/Department of Genetics, Genomic, Informatics, will use microfluidics and single-cell RNAseq to determine the first molecular steps in the cascade of events that causes subsets of ganglion cells to die. These data will be used to design neuro-protective interventions to insulate cells from glaucomatous stressors.  He will collaborate with glaucoma researcher Monica Jablonski, PhD (Ophthalmology).

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