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Goals and Accomplishments

The goal of the BrightFocus Foundation is to support research and provide public education to help eradicate brain and eye diseases, including Alzheimer's disease, macular degeneration, and glaucoma. We are working to save mind and sight.

Research

ScientistSince 1973 BrightFocus has awarded more than $140.3 million dollars to scientists seeking new approaches to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of our target diseases. These grants have supported more than 1,000 innovative projects and an estimated 3,200 scientists who have dedicated their careers to groundbreaking research. Our funding has enabled promising researchers—talented scientists at universities, hospitals, and medical centers worldwide—to make significant discoveries about these diseases. To date, two have gone on to win Nobel prizes.

BrightFocus conducted a survey of all scientific reports developed through our grants. The study showed that the BrightFocus-supported findings are consistently cited by other scientists at twice the frequency as other research findings in the fields of Alzheimer's disease, macular degeneration, or glaucoma. A third-party roster of papers considered milestones in Alzheimer's disease lists 19 BrightFocus-supported papers, six percent of the total so honored. This is a remarkable result for an organization that provides less than one percent of global Alzheimer's disease research funding. This shows BrightFocus' success in identifying significant research.

Part of the credit for this extraordinary success belongs to the BrightFocus Scientific Review Committees (SRC). Each of the three BrightFocus programs—Alzheimer's Disease Research, Macular Degeneration Research, and National Glaucoma Research—has its own SRC composed of established and well-regarded investigators from universities and research institutes worldwide. Through a rigorous peer-review process, they carefully screen and make recommendations on grant applications based on scientific merit.

The high frequency of citation, in addition to being a measure of the quality and usefulness of BrightFocus-supported studies, illustrates the ripple effect that donations to BrightFocus generate: BrightFocus-funded research becomes a building block of research throughout the world. This influence is in part to our partnership with the free online scientific journal Molecular Neurodegeneration. Through this top-tier, peer-reviewed journal, current information on scientific studies funded by BrightFocus and others is made freely available globally.

Our funding acts as a catalyst in early-stage research. The BrightFocus programs are designed to provide initial funding for highly innovative experimental ideas. Most of the awardees use the BrightFocus donor award money to demonstrate key findings that lead to later interest and additional funding from industrial or governmental funding agencies.

The funding assists the average BrightFocus grantee in leveraging approximately ten times the value of his or her original grant in “downstream” support. This is an amazing 1,000 percent return on BrightFocus' investment.

BrightFocus Foundation programs—Alzheimer's Disease Research, Macular Degeneration Research, and National Glaucoma Research—are supported entirely by private contributions from the general public and by corporate and foundation grants. The foundation receives no government grants.

It is our firm belief that having the courage to invest in innovative ideas will lead to revolutionary approaches and life-saving breakthroughs. Indisputably, the world-class research identified and supported by BrightFocus is more than promising: it is making a real contribution to revolutionary science in the fight to save mind and sight.

Public Information

Senior gentleman reading a publicationOur second, equally important commitment is to public information. We communicate—in English and Spanish—with patients, their caregivers, and the general public about a wide array of issues related to these three diseases. To carry out this crucial part of our mission, we:

  • publish and offer free of charge a variety of booklets, brochures, fact sheets, articles, and newsletters that cover new research results, risk factors, preventive lifestyles, available treatments, and coping strategies
  • provide individuals with answers to questions, support, and referrals through our toll-free number and information on our website
  • distribute news updates and the latest research findings
  • present eAudio and eVideo series
  • offer an online macular degeneration educational resource for the family at www.ChildrensCorner.org
  • produce award-winning public service announcements for TV and radio, and
  • are active in social media, including Facebook and Twitter, to connect with the wider public.

The up-to-date, comprehensive information on our website makes the site a valuable resource for healthcare providers, policymakers, the media, and others.

Alzheimer's Disease Research Program

Mother and DaughterAlzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. An irreversible degeneration of the brain that causes disruptions in memory, cognition, personality, and other functions, it eventually leads to death from complete brain failure. More than five million Americans age 65 and older are thought to have Alzheimer's disease. By 2050, the number of Americans with this disease may increase to more than 15 million.

Pushing the Limits of Scientific Knowledge

Since 1985, the Alzheimer's Disease Research (ADR) program has awarded more than $87.7 million to support promising research in fields ranging from molecular biology to genetics to epidemiology. ADR is currently supporting 65 outstanding biomedical researcher projects after awarding 28 new grants in July 2014.

BrightFocus played a role early in the career of Dr. Stanley Prusiner, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1997 for his landmark research on prions. Dr. Prusiner, an honorary member of the BrightFocus Board of Directors, is one of two Nobel Laureates who has been supported by BrightFocus grants. The other is Dr. Paul Greengard of Rockefeller University, also an honorary board member, who received the same category of Nobel Prize in 2000, sharing it with two other scientists for work on signalling systems within the brain.

In 2013, BrightFocus grants supported:

  • New ways to prevent brain cell death by increasing blood flow
  • A novel therapeutic approach to preventing Alzheimer's disease
  • A clinical study to treat Alzheimer’s disease with magnetic stimulation of deep brain regions
  • Investigation of inflammation in the brain and periphery affect brain pathology in common dementias such as Alzheimer's disease

Important Breakthroughs

Well-designed research pays off. Recent BrightFocus-sponsored findings in Alzheimer's disease have indicated that:

  • Alzheimer’s and low blood sugar in diabetes may trigger a vicious cycle.
  • Scientists will need to rethink any therapeutic strategies that target the high risk form, called APOE4, to slow amyloid plaque accumulation.
  • Specialized antibodies have about ten times the ability of a regular antibody to neutralize the toxic clustering of the misfolded Alzheimer's beta-amyloid protein.
  • A diabetes drug improves memory in Alzheimer’s disease mice.
  • Preventing or better managing diabetes may prevent cognitive decline.
  • Alzheimer’s disease may spread by ‘jumping’ from one brain region to another.
  • Cell energy dysfunction is present early in Alzheimer's, before memory loss.

With further research, each of these discoveries may contribute to the development of new treatments and preventions.

Macular Degeneration Research Program

Senior woman with macular degenerationAge-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an irreversible destruction of the central area of the eye's retina (the macula). This leads to loss of the sharp, fine-detail, “straight-ahead” vision required for activities like reading, driving, recognizing faces, and seeing the world in color. Macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss in Americans 60 years of age and older and advanced age-related macular degeneration is a leading cause of irreversible blindness and visual impairment in the world. As many as 11 million Americans have some form of macular degeneration, including both early and later stages of the wet and dry forms. This number is expected to double by 2050.

Pushing the Limits of Scientific Knowledge

The Macular Degeneration Research program (MDR) is the newest BrightFocus program. Since 1999, BrightFocus has awarded more than $15.8 million to support research into the causes and potential preventions and treatments of this disease. MDR is currently supporting 35 biomedical researcher projects after awarding 16 new grants in 2014.

In 2013, BrightFocus grants supported:

  • Investigations of whether an uncontrolled immune response to a person's damaged cells causes the progression of AMD
  • Strategies to make waste removal more efficient in the retina, which may lead to the development of a new therapy for dry AMD
  • Exploring how tiny pieces of genetic material called microRNAs could have a big role in AMD

Important Breakthroughs

Promising recent results by earlier BrightFocus grant awardees include:

  • Researchers discovered seven new genes associated with the risk of advanced age-related macular degeneration.
  • Targeting cholesterol buildup slowed macular degeneration vision loss in mice.
  • A chemical "switch" could one day serve as a light-detecting substitute in eyes that have lost their light-detecting retina cells.
  • Alcohol intake may increase the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
  • A new therapeutic target was identified for dry AMD.
  • Breakthrough findings are increasing our understanding of how dry AMD causes blindness.
  • The discovery of adult stem cells lying dormant in the retina may lead to future treatments of macular degeneration.
  • Controlling a protein called IL-18 could prevent progression to later stages of macular degeneration.

With further research, these and other discoveries may lead to new treatments and ways of managing risk factors.

 

National Glaucoma Research Program

Grandfather and GranddaughterThe term "glaucoma" refers to a group of eye disorders that have few symptoms in their early stages but that eventually result in damage to the optic nerve (the bundle of nerve fibers that carries information from the eye to the brain). There are two main forms of glaucoma: open-angle (the most common form, affecting approximately 70-95% of individuals) and angle-closure. These can lead to loss of side vision and eventually to complete blindness. There are more than three million Americans living with glaucoma, and an estimated half of them may not know that they have the disease.

Pushing the Limits of Scientific Knowledge

Since the National Glaucoma Research (NGR) program began in 1978, BrightFocus has awarded more than $24.2 million to support research projects on the causes and potential prevention and treatment of this disease. NGR is currently supporting 34 biomedical research projects, after recently awarding 15 new grants in 2014.

In 2013, BrightFocus grants supported:

  • A new mechanism controlling the drainage of eye fluid
  • A new way to protect nerve cells in the eyes
  • Stimulation of the retina to re-grow axons that allow eye cells to make connections to the brain, allowing for the recovery of vision
  • An improved gene delivery method to lower eye pressure
  • Cell replacement therapy for glaucoma

Important Breakthroughs

Research results from BrightFocus-supported studies that could lead to breakthroughs in stopping glaucoma include:

  • The inhibition of the protein, Grp94, could lead to new treatments for some forms of hereditary glaucoma.
  • Targeted x-ray treatment provides protection from glaucoma in mice.
  • A new clue to the origins of glaucoma comes from a protein that blocks eye drainage.
  • Higher oxygen levels in  the eyes of African Americans may help explain glaucoma risk.
  • Two genetic mutations are linked to normal-pressure glaucoma.
  • Small episodes of stress to the eyes may actually protect against damage from glaucoma.
  • Zebrafish may hold the key to repairing serious eye conditions.

Last Review: 04/01/14


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