Researchers at Moran Eye Center Funded by Numerous Grants from Research to Prevent Blindness

Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) has recently awarded a grant of $110,000 to the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center to support research into the causes, treatment, and prevention of blinding diseases. The research is directed by Randall J Olson, MD, Professor and Chair, Division of Ophthalmology, and CEO of the John A. Moran Eye Center, University of Utah. The Unrestricted Grant from Research to Prevent Blindness is used for all facets of Moran (clinical, translational, and research alike).

RPB is the world’s leading voluntary organization supporting eye research. To date, the organization has awarded grants totaling $5,335,300 to the University of Utah Health Sciences Center.

“We are immensely grateful to RPB for its ongoing support of every facet of Moran’s work,” notes Dr. Olson. “Additionally, several of our researchers are funded by individual RPB awards, making it possible for them to carry out work that has the potential to affect thousands of lives.”

A sampling of current RPB-funded research at the Moran Eye Center includes major work by the Hageman Lab, under the direction of Gregory S. Hageman, PhD. Dr. Hageman’s primary research interest over the past 20 years has been directed toward assessment of pathways involved in the etiology of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of irreversible worldwide blindness. His team continues its research through Moran’s Center for Translational Medicine with the expectation that previous breakthroughs will soon lead to diagnoses and treatments for AMD. Importantly, their discoveries point to the human eye as a window to understanding and predicting other diseases, including heart and liver disease, and others.

Jun Yang,PhD is funded by the RPB 2013 Special Research Scholar Award. Her focus is on understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying retinitis pigmentosa and seeking effective treatments for this disease. Retinitis pigmentosa is the major form of inherited retinal degenerative diseases, affecting one in 4,000 people worldwide.

Working in collaboration with colleagues at Moran and the AMD Genomics Consortium, Meg DeAngelis, PhD, and her lab have identified some novel mechanisms and pathways that are potential therapeutic targets for AMD drug development.

David Krizaj, PhD, and his teams’ recently published study explored and disproved some ongoing theories about the mechanisms underlying Stargardt type 3 retinal degeneration, a form of macular degeneration that strikes one in ten-thousand children between the ages of six and twenty.

Wolfgang B. Baehr, PhD, is an RPB Senior Investigator. His laboratory continues the hunt for genes implicated in blinding retinal degenerations using techniques from molecular biology, biochemistry, and neurobiology. In addition to the study of genes thought to be involved in rod and cone phototransduction, the laboratory is tracking genes involved in the Visual Cycle. This pathway recycles nutritionally derived Vitamin A aldehyde, the light-catching molecule or chromophore of photoreceptor cells, employing a complex export/import process between photoreceptors and the retinal pigmented epithelium.

Yingbin Fu, PhD, is studying the mechanism of a major genetic risk factor for AMD, supported by an RPB Career Development Award.

Mary Elizabeth Hartnett, MD, and her lab conduct ongoing, extensive gene therapy studies in models of retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), a vision-threatening disease caused by abnormal development of the retinal blood vessels, and the effects of anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) injections, detailed in numerous published papers. Her lab is also engaged in studying the causes of AMD.

Among several other studies funded by Moran’s RPB grants, researcher Liliana Warner, MD, PhD, and her colleagues are currently working on a project that involves light scattering and light transmittance of explanted intraocular lenses (IOLs) and have published three papers on the subject in the January issue of the Journal of Cataract & Refractive Surgery.

Since it was founded in 1960, RPB has channeled hundreds of millions of dollars to medical institutions throughout the United States for research into all blinding eye diseases. For information on RPB, RPB-funded research, eye disorders, and the RPB Grants Program, to go www.rpbusa.org

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