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Research to Prevent Blindness

Research to Prevent Blindness Marks $400 Million in Funding to Advance Eye Disease Research

NEW YORK, December 22, 2022—Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) announces a new round of awardees who are generating critical knowledge around a host of sight-threatening conditions. With this latest round of funding, RPB has provided more than $400 million in research funding to the brightest scientists, at the nation’s leading medical institutions, who are asking the most important questions to save sight.

As a result of its efforts, RPB's influence is apparent in nearly every major breakthrough in eye care, with much of RPB’s funding supporting the early basic research that is critical to lay the groundwork for future treatments.

“I am proud that RPB has reached this funding milestone, but more importantly, I am extremely gratified by our impact on the trajectory of vision research in the United States,” said Brian F. Hofland, PhD, President of Research to Prevent Blindness.

RPB was founded in 1960 by Dr. Jules Stein, who is best known as the founder and president of Music Corporation of America. However, he trained as an ophthalmologist before starting his business career. Later in his life, he founded RPB to help people maintain “the magnificent gift of sight” through research.  

“The foresight of our founder, Dr. Stein, to create Research to Prevent Blindness; to successfully make the case for the creation of the National Eye Institute at the National Institutes of Health; to found and grow departments of ophthalmology around the country; and to structure RPB in such a way that it would provide sustainable support for scientifically excellent vision research over many decades, is rather astounding,” said Dr. Hofland. “He knew that the best way to attain his goal of saving sight was to invest in research and in typical Jules Stein fashion, he made that happen to a degree that changed the course of history.”

As a result of 62 years of robust vision research funding, many of the tools, techniques and treatments available to patients with eyes diseases are associated with RPB funding, including the development of:

  • lasers for the repair of torn retinas;
  • eye-pressure lowering drugs for glaucoma;
  • a single-dose antibiotic that treats trachoma (the leading infectious cause of blindness worldwide);
  • anti-VEGF injections to treat wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD);
  • safe and effective cataract surgery; and many more.

RPB uses a unique two-pronged grant-making model—funding both individual researchers and the highest-performing departments of ophthalmology at academic medical centers across the United States. With this model, RPB is able to be directive in its funding, while also allowing for the flexibility needed to advance ground-breaking science.

New RPB Awardees

Newly announced RPB research, in December 2022, includes Unrestricted and Challenge Grants to high-performing departments of ophthalmology, as well as Individual Grants to researchers (as listed below).

Newly announced departmental funding includes Unrestricted Grants to the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine; The Regents of the University of Michigan School of Medicine; and University of Washington School of Medicine, as well as a Challenge Grant to The Ohio State University College of Medicine. Additionally, 16 Unrestricted Grant renewals were approved. The full list of RPB-supported departments of ophthalmology is available here.

Individual awardees will use RPB funding to perform research that provides critical insight into age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, corneal transplantation, retinal degeneration disorders, ocular hypertension, keratoconus, night blindness, retinitis pigmentosa, and more.

In December 2022, RPB funded the following individual awards:

RPB / International Retinal Research Foundation Award for Innovative Research Approaches for Age-Related Macular Degeneration:

Kaustabh Ghosh, PhD, Associate Professor, The Regents of the University of California, Los Angeles

Will study how the blood vessels in the outer retina (choroidal vessels) degenerate early on in age-related macular degeneration (AMD), building on a preliminary study suggesting that stiffness of the vessels might be the underlying cause.

RPB / Dr. H. James and Carole Free Award for Innovative Research Approaches for Age-Related Macular Degeneration:

Yali Jia, PhD, Professor, Oregon Health & Science University

Will develop a new, ultra-high-speed imaging platform based on optical coherence tomography (OCT) that will enable localized measures of neurovascular coupling—the mechanism that links neural activity to subsequent changes in cerebral blood flow.

RPB / American Macular Degeneration Foundation Award for Innovative Research Approaches for Age-Related Macular Degeneration:

Claudio Punzo, PhD, Associate Professor, The Regents of the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School

Will develop a new small molecule approach to treating wet AMD, the advanced form of the disease in which blood vessels in the eye leak into the macula, which provides central vision.

RPB Career Development Awards:

Kun-Che Chang, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

Will study retinal ganglion cell (RGC) and optic nerve degeneration—factors that result in permanent loss of vision in patients with glaucoma and other optic neuropathies—in order to identify the factors involved in RGC development.

Thomas Dohlman, MD, Assistant Professor, Harvard Medical School / MEEI

Will investigate how the immune system in children rejects corneal transplants, an area of fundamental importance that has not been explored before.

Michael Telias, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry

Will investigate a long-lasting treatment for preservation of residual vision in patients suffering from retinal degeneration based on blocking a specific target receptor for inner retinal neurons.

Victoria L. Tseng, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor-in-Residence, The Regents of the University of California, Los Angeles

Will test the hypothesis that the occurrence and outcomes of neovascular glaucoma—a devastating and potentially blinding condition—are closely linked to an individual’s social, economic, and demographic background.

RPB Career Advancement Awards:

Mrinalini Hoon, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine & Public Health

Will study the molecular interactions that underlie visual function in the retina using the well-characterized dim-light pathway in the mouse retina.

David Myung, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University

Will develop a new way to deliver healthy endothelial cells to patients with corneal cell loss through an innovative technology known as bio-inkjet printing.

Tingting Yang, PhD, Assistant Professor, Columbia University Irving Medical Center

Will study two bestrophin interacting proteins proteins that have critical roles in the eye (related to generating a vision-related electrical signal and determining intraocular pressure) in order to learn how these proteins regulate cells in a physiological context.

RPB Physician-Scientist Awards:

Anthony Kuo, MD, Associate Professor, Duke University School of Medicine           

Will extend the capabilities of a previously developed imaging system that can provide robotically aligned optical coherence tomography (RAOCT) for semi-automated retinal imaging of patients. Will also test diagnostic performance of this system.

Uri Soiberman, MD, Assistant Professor, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Will develop the first topical medical treatment (eye drops) for keratoconus—a progressive disease that causes bulging of the cornea and blurry vision.

RPB Stein Innovation Awards:

Colin J. Barnstable, DPhil, Professor, Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine

Will use epigenetic modifiers to alter patterns of gene expression in ways that promote photoreceptor cell survival, which is necessary for vision, and which is disrupted in diseases like retinitis pigmentosa and dry AMD.

Kirill Martemyanov, PhD, Professor and Chair of the Department of Neuroscience, University of Florida Scripps Biomedical Research

Will define and study photoreceptor G protein coupled receptors (GPCRs), using a range of techniques, to enhance our understanding of how these cells function to detect light and transmit it to the brain.

RPB International Research Collaborators Awards:

Vladimir J. Kefalov, PhD, Professor, The Regents of the University of California, Irvine

Collaborator: Pere Garriga, PhD, Professor, Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya, Spain

Will determine the molecular mechanism by which the G90D and G90V rhodopsin mutations cause night blindness and retinal degeneration, respectively.

Mengyu Wang, PhD, Assistant Professor, Harvard Medical School / MEEI

Collaborator: Franziska G. Rauscher, PhD, Principal Investigator, Leipzig University, Germany

Will create personalized profile norms based on individual retinal anatomy to improve glaucoma diagnostic accuracy.

RPB Medical Student Eye Research Fellowships:

Kyle S. Chan                                                                                
From:  Medical Student, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
To:  Research Fellow, Department of Ophthalmology, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Mentor: Jeremy A. Lavine, MD, PhD

Owen D. Clinger
From:  Medical Student, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine       
To:  Research Fellow, Department of Ophthalmology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
Mentor: Yuanyuan Chen, PhD

Megan E. Paul                                                                    
From:  Medical Student, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai         
To:  Research Fellow, Department of Ophthalmology, The Regents of the University of California, Los Angeles
Mentor: Anne L. Coleman, MD, PhD

RPB / American Osteopathic Colleges of Ophthalmology & Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation Medical Student Eye Research Fellowship:

Soha Noorani                                                                             
From:  Student of Osteopathic Medicine, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine       
To:  Research Fellow, Department of Ophthalmology, Duke University School of Medicine
Mentor: Cynthia Toth, MD

RPB / Janssen Medical Student Eye Research Fellowship:

Cherrell Price 
From:  Medical Student, Morehouse School of Medicine           
To:  Research Fellow, Department of Ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School / MEEI
 Mentor: Kinga Bujakowska, PhD

RPB / Castle Biosciences Medical Student Eye Research Fellowship in Ocular Cancer:

Shreya Sirivolu                                                          
From:  Medical Student, Keck School of Medicine of the University of California              
To:  Research Fellow, Department of Ophthalmology, Keck School of Medicine of the University of California
Mentor: Jesse L. Berry, MD

The TGF (sponsored by Patricia Hill) – RPB Glaucoma Fellowships in Glaucoma*:

*This grant is administered by The Glaucoma Foundation

Clara Maria Colon Garcia-Moliner, MD
Co-Chief Resident
Wayne State University School of Medicine

William Plum, MD
Glaucoma Fellow
Columbia University Irving Medical Center

Jose Quiroz, MD, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Congratulations to all of RPB’s new awardees! The organization looks forward to the excellent work that you will undertake, and the knowledge that will be gained, as a result of these awards. RPB is also grateful to its partner organizations for making our co-funded research awards possible.

ABOUT RESEARCH TO PREVENT BLINDNESS

Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) is the leading nonprofit organization supporting eye research directed at the prevention, treatment or eradication of all diseases that damage and destroy sight. As part of this purview, RPB also supports efforts to grow and sustain a robust and diverse vision research community. Since it was founded in 1960 by Dr. Jules Stein, RPB has awarded more than $403 million in research grants. As a result, RPB has been associated with nearly every major breakthrough in the understanding and treatment of vision loss in the past 62 years. Learn more at www.rpbusa.org.

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