3 FFB grants go to UC Berkeley vision scientists

The Vision Science faculty members Austin Roorda, John Flannery, and Richard Kramer have been presented with the Foundation Fighting Blindness Board of Directors Awards. This award recognizes investigators’ outstanding progress in research that is advancing sight-saving treatments and cures.

Here is an excerpt from the Foundation’s recent press release:

The Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board completed its annual grants review process, leading to the allocation of seven new $300,000, three-year grants totaling $2.1 million that will focus on identifying new disease-causing gene mutations,  developing cross-cutting gene therapies and advancing potential treatments for dry age-related macular degeneration, among other projects. Another $800,000 was awarded to two research efforts at the University of California, Berkley, focused on optogenetic approaches to treat blinding inherited retinal diseases. Optogenetics is a relatively new field of research, which involves the delivery of genes or chemicals to restore light sensitivity to a highly degenerated retina. In essence, this type of treatment holds promise for restoring vision in people with advanced disease, and may do so regardless of the genetic defect causing the disease.

“Retinal diseases together affect more than 10 millNew Grants Press Releaseion Americans, and with an aging population this number is growing. Through the Foundation’s retinal disease research investments, we are seeing cutting-edge initiatives with vision-saving potential,” said Dr. Stephen Rose, the Foundation’s chief research officer, of the newly funded projects. “The progress being made in research right now is remarkable; however there is still a long way to go to secure the resources to significantly expand the portfolio of trials across the spectrum of retinal diseases. We had to leave several excellent proposals on the table.”

Dr. Roorda‘s project is titled AOSLO: Detecting Retinal Degeneration Before Vision is Lost. The adaptive optics laser scanning ophthalmoscope (AOSLO) is like a powerful microscope that enables retinal researchers to see structural changes in the retina well before vision is lost from a retinal disease. That power can enable researchers to more quickly determine if a treatment is working in a clinical trial. Dr. Roorda is performing studies of AOSLO to correlate changes in the retina (e.g., loss of photoreceptors) with changes in vision.

Dr. Flannery is developing an optogenetic gene therapy for bipolar cells in the retina, which survive for many people with significant retinal degeneration. Given these cells’ adjacency to photoreceptors, he believes bipolar cells have the potential to provide meaningful vision when treated with an optogenetic therapy. He’ll be testing the effectiveness of four gene therapies, each delivering a different light-sensing protein to bipolar cells.

Dr. Kramer will study variations of a synthetic compound called AAQ as an optogenetic treatment in ganglion cells. Previous studies showed that injections of AAQ restored vision in mice, but only in very bright light. Dr. Kramer will be engineering compounds to work in dimmer light. And, because injections of AAQ have worked only temporarily, Dr. Kramer will be evaluating microspheres, small biodegradable particles, to provide sustained release of the compounds.

Read a full copy of New Grants Press Release



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