Grants from Research to Prevent Blindness Propel Innovative Research at Moran Eye Center

Dec 09, 2019 1:00 PM

Franz Vinberg, PhD
Franz Vinberg, PhD
Bryan Jones, PhD
Bryan Jones, PhD

Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) has awarded $490,000 in grants to support ongoing, innovative vision research at the John A. Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah.

Frans Vinberg, PhD, received RPB’s $300,000 Dr. H. James and Carole Free Career Development Award. Established in 1990, the award aims to attract the brightest physicians and basic scientists to eye research and to serve as an accelerant for new vision research careers.

To date, the program has given awards to 215 vision researchers in departments of ophthalmology at universities across the country. In the years following their grants, the group has collectively obtained more than $1 billion in government and private research funding. Recipients of the award have also generated critical new findings in all areas of vision research.

Vinberg studies mechanisms in the retina that enable vision over a wide range of light intensities and colors and how these mechanisms are affected in major blinding diseases, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic retinopathy. He is also developing methods to keep human retina samples functional after donors have passed away, allowing scientists to perform tests on the tissues.

Vinberg most recently collaborated on research that identified three subtypes of human intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells. These light-sensitive cells play a role in modulating sleep, alertness, and mood, as well as some aspects of vision. The findings, only possible through Vinberg’s method for studying retinal tissue, will aid research into therapeutic lighting for a range of diseases and conditions.

“I am so grateful for this support from RPB,” said Vinberg. “I plan to use the money to study basic mechanisms of light and dark adaptation in the human macula that enable vision in quickly changing illumination and in very bright light.”

Vinberg is collaborating with former RPB Career Development Award recipient and retinal specialist Paul Bernstein, MD, PhD, Moran's director of clinical research and associate director of research.

Bryan Jones, PhD, received a $75,000 RPB International Research Collaborators Award. This award promotes international collaborations through which a researcher in the U.S. and a colleague outside the U.S. gain new knowledge and skills. The funds allow researchers to work in each other's labs for a period of time to accelerate the development of treatments for blinding disorders.

Jones studies the retina and worked with Robert E. Marc, PhD, to build the world's first map of the circuitry of a retina, or retinal connectome. His National Institutes of Health-funded laboratory is now working on building a pathoconnectome that will show how eye diseases including age-related macular degeneration alter retinal circuitry.

RPB has also awarded the Moran Eye Center $115,000 in unrestricted research funding to be used at the discretion of Moran CEO and Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences Chair Randall J Olson. Moran supports 15 research laboratories and has more than 80 active clinical trials and research projects.

RPB based its institutional award on a thorough review of criteria, including Moran’s research activities, laboratory environment, and clinical and scientific staff as evaluated by RPB’s Scientific Advisory Panel.

About Dr. H. James and Carole Free

Dr. and Mrs. Free established the Free Family Foundation 20 years ago with the desire of bringing their family together around important initiatives and creating a legacy of generosity and restorative philanthropy. Dr. Free, who is currently battling wet and dry age-related macular degeneration, is an MD (retired) who specialized in Internal Medicine with a focus on Geriatrics and Nephrology. His entire career was focused on practicing medicine in a truly compassionate and thoughtful manner. Dr. and Mrs. Free have a desire to partner with researchers and institutions in finding new and innovative ways to diminish the effects of macular degeneration and ultimately to find a cure for this disease.

About Research to Prevent Blindness

Since it was founded in 1960, RPB has channeled more than $373 million into eye research. As a result, RPB has been identified with nearly every major breakthrough in vision research in that time. For information on RPB's grants program, listings of RPB institutional and individual grantees, and findings generated by these awards, visit

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