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.
Since 1973 BrightFocus has awarded more than $120 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 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, well-regarded investigators from universities and research institutes worldwide. They carefully screen all applications to BrightFocus for research funding on the basis of 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 research becomes a building block of further research throughout the world. This influence will expand even more thanks 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.
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.
Our 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 the “Ask an Expert” columns 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 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 health-care providers, policymakers, the media, and others.
Alzheimer's Disease Research Program
Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. It is 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, BrightFocus' Alzheimer's Disease Research (ADR) program has awarded more than $78 million to support promising research in fields ranging from molecular biology to epidemiology. ADR is currently supporting 54 outstanding biomedical researcher projects after awarding 22 new grants in July 2012 (see below).
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.
In 2010, BrightFocus funded groundbreaking research that led to the discovery of a new therapeutic drug target that may help protect against loss of cognition in Alzheimer's disease patients. Dr. Paul Lombroso of the Yale School of Medicine led the team that made the discovery; his team included Nobel Laureate and honorary member of BrightFocus' Board of Directors Dr. Paul Greengard.
Among the 2012 grants:
- Can a Diabetes Drug Fight Alzheimer's Disease as Well?
- Testing a Natural Substance's Effect on the Nervous System
- Charting the Transfer of Harmful Tau Protein
Well-designed research pays off. Some significant recent BrightFocus-sponsored findings in Alzheimer's disease have demonstrated that:
- A protein triggered by rheumatoid arthritis dramatically reduces the development of Alzheimer's disease and memory loss in mice.
- The same plaque that forms in the Alzheimer's disease brain also accumulates in the eyes of children with Down's syndrome, a finding that may have implications for early diagnosis.
- Dementia in diabetics differs from dementia in non-diabetics. This indicates the potential for different treatments, as personalized medicine becomes more practical.
- Memory loss from Alzheimer's disease may be caused not by cell death but by the build-up of a protein in the parts of nerve cells that store memories.
- Rising levels of plaque in the Alzheimer's disease brain appear to be the result of failing to clear the plaque, not that the brain is producing more of it.
- Recent support of novel drugs currently in preclinical testing.
With further research, each of these discoveries may contribute to the development of new treatments and preventions.
Macular Degeneration Research Program
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an irreversible destruction of the central area of the eye's retina (the macula), which 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 is the second-highest cause of irreversible vision loss 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 $12.5 million to support research into the causes and potential preventions and treatments of this disease. MDR is currently supporting 31 biomedical researcher projects.
One $100,000 BrightFocus grant went towards the work of Dr. Ali Hafezi-Moghadam of Harvard Medical School. His team devised an imaging tool that can detect signs of AMD and other eye diseases at the earliest molecular stages, creating the possibility of detecting eye disease so early that it might be reversible before permanent damage occurs. This tool offers potential to identify other diseases of the body as well, including Alzheimer's, cardiovascular, and kidney diseases.
In 2012, new grants support:
- Test new treatments for Dry AMD
- Measure environmental influences on one's risk for AMD
Promising recent results by earlier BrightFocus grant awardees include:
- the discovery that suppressing a particular protein can reduce the abnormal growth of blood vessels that leads to AMD, a finding that may enable doctors to catch the disease before the center of the retina has been destroyed and
- the discovery that eating whole-wheat rice, pasta, and bread and other “high-quality” carbohydrates could reduce the risk of contracting AMD, which, if confirmed, would be a major breakthrough in disease prevention.
- progress toward clinical trials with a vitamin A derivative recently licensed to a pharmaceutical company for human testing.
With further research, these and other discoveries may lead to new treatments and ways of managing risk factors.
National Glaucoma Research Program
The term “glaucoma” relates 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.
Pushing the Limits of Scientific Knowledge
Since the National Glaucoma Research (NGR) program began in 1978, BrightFocus has awarded more than $21.1 million to support 300 basic research projects on the causes and potential approaches to prevention and treatment of this disease. NGR is currently supporting 31 biomedical research projects, after recently awarding 11 new grants, including:
- investigating whether changes to pressure in the brain may be just as important as changes in eye pressure in causing glaucoma
- looking for new ways to measure changes in different parts of the eye, to assess a person's risk and improve early detection
- using a new machine to examine parts of the optical nerve head in order to diagnose and treat glaucoma faster and
- exploring whether the stiffness of the cornea at the front of the eye predicts mechanical damage at the back of the eye.
Research results from BrightFocus-supported studies that could lead to breakthroughs in stopping glaucoma include:
- the discovery that the first signs of glaucoma occur not in the eyes, as was previously thought, but in the brain, which could lead to breakthroughs in diagnosis and prevention
- the discovery that a drug already approved for blood-pressure treatment protects mice from developing glaucoma, which could have the potential to prevent glaucoma-related vision loss and eye damage
- the discovery that a molecule called VEGF-B protects both retinal and brain neurons from cell death, which could lead to the molecule's use as a treatment for vision loss, and
- an investigation of an Alzheimer's drug for use in slowing glaucoma.
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.
Last Review: 05/14/13