2020 BrightFocus Research Grants Awards

BrightFocus Foundation has a history of supporting cutting-edge research into Alzheimer’s disease, macular degeneration, and glaucoma.


An Asian woman scientist working in her lab, wearing gloves and eye protection.


Alzheimer's Disease

Leading scientists from around the world will begin research projects to develop new drugs, gain greater insight into protein changes in the brain, and better understand how the disease develops and progresses.

Studying the Role of a Novel Innate Immunity Pathway in Inducing Brain Inflammation and Damage in Alzheimer’s Disease 
Sadaf Amin, PhD
Weill Cornell Medicine 

Understanding the Beneficial Role of Sleep in Cognitive Deficits
Christelle Anaclet, PhD
University  of Massachusetts Medical School

Using naturalistic driving behavior to identify older adults with preclinical or symptomatic Alzheimer disease
Ganesh Babulal, MSCI, OTD, PhD
Washington University School of Medicine 

Washing Alzheimer’s Disease Of the Brain 
Michele Cavallari, MD, PhD
Harvard Medical School & Brigham and Women's Hospital 

Nanobodies Stabilizing Fragile Molecular Machines to Lower the Production of Toxic Amyloid-Beta in Alzheimer’s Disease 
Lucía Chávez-Gutiérrez, PhD
Vlaams Instituut Voor Biotechnologie (VIB), (Belgium)

Examining How the TREM2 R47H Mutation Effects Microglial Lipid Content and the Interactions Between Human Microglia and Alzheimer’s Disease Pathology Within the Brain
Christel Claes, PhD
University of California, Irvine

Gene Correction as a Therapy for Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Caused by the C9orf72 Mutation 
Claire Clelland, MD, PhD
University of California, San Francisco 

Is Hexokinase 2 a Molecular Link Between TREM2 Signaling and Microglial Activity in Alzheimer Disease?
Juan Codocedo, PhD
Indiana University 

The Role of Chemical Messenger Signaling in Removing Alzheimer’s Pathology From the Brain 
Scott Counts, MD
Michigan State University 

Protecting Brain Cells from Death using Lipid Metabolic Drugs as a New Treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease
Simone Crivelli, PhD
University of Kentucky 

Improving Cognitive Function in Alzheimer’s Disease Therapy Using a Combinatorial Approach of Reducing Disease Progression and Increasing Memory
Brati Das, PhD
University of Connecticut Health Center 

Mitochondrial Calcium Deregulation and Memory Loss in Alzheimer’s Disease 
Heng Du, MD, PhD
The University of Texas at Dallas 

Identifying Therapeutic Targets and Biomarkers to Facilitate a Meaningful Therapy and a Pre-Symptomatic Alzheimer’s Diagnostic
Mark Ebbert, PhD
Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville 

Testing New Markers of Brain Function that May be Sensitive to Early Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease in Older Adults Who Still Have Normal Cognition
Peter Fried, PhD
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center & Harvard Medical School 

Understanding ApoE
Carl Frieden, PhD
Washington University in St. Louis 

Evaluating the Role of Immune Cells in the Brain and a Related Protein, TREM2, on Alzheimer’s Disease Pathology
Maud Gratuze, PhD
Washintong University in St. Louis 

Identifying Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease-Related Protein Changes in Skin Cells, Blood and Spinal Fluid That Can be Used as Markers of Disease or Therapeutic Targets 
Chadwick Hales, MD, PhD
Emory University

Unraveling the Biological Overlap of Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia with Lewy Bodies 
Lenora Higginbotham, MD
Emory University 

Investigating Coordinated Removal of Old and Synthesis of New Materials in Neurons and How These Processes are Disrupted in FTD
Sarah Hill, PhD
National Institutes of Health/NINDS 

The Role of Signaling Factors That Modulate Immune and Metabolic Function in Alzheimer’s Disease
Makoto Ishii, MD, PhD
Weill Cornell Medicine 

A Simple Blood Test to Identify Individuals at Risk of Developing Alzheimer’s Disease
Thomas Karikari, PhD
University of Gothenburg, (Sweden)     

Using OCTA Eye Imaging of Retinal Blood Vessels As Biomarker of Vascular Cognitive Impairment and Dementia
Amir Kashani, MD, PhD
University of Southern California, Roski Eye Institute    

Non-Neuronal Contribution to Alzheimer’s Disease 
Ksenia Kastanenka, PhD
Massachusetts General Hospital @ Harvard Medical School   

The Impact of the Exercise Hormone Irisin on Astrocytes in Alzheimer’s Disease 
Eunhee Kim, PhD
Massachusetts General Hospital & Harvard Medical School 

Twisting Away Toxic Proteins in Alzheimer’s Disease
John Koren, PhD
University of Florida, Gainesville 

A New Way to Measure How the Brain Uses Ketones as Fuel in Alzheimer’s Disease 
Lydia Le Page, DPhil, MChem
University of California, San Francisco 

Circadian Regulation, Autonomic Function, and Alzheimer’s Disease 
Peng Li, PhD
Brigham and Women's Hospital & Harvard Medical School 

Explore the Impacts of APOE Genotype Switching From apoE4 to apoE2 in the Periphery (Liver and Bloodstream) for Alzheimer’s Disease Therapy
Chia-Chen (Jenny) Liu, PhD
Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville 

A New Method to Determine Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Toxins in the Lipid-Enriched Environment 
Jinghui Luo, PhD
Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), (Switzerland) 

Targeting Blood Vessel Excitability to Reduce Tau Pathology in Alzheimer’s Disease
Shannon Macauley-Rambach, PhD
Wake Forest University 

Finding Aberrant Glial and Neuronal Dysfunctions that Promote Neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementia 
Elise Marsan, PhD
University of California, San Francisco 

Identifying Groups of Alzheimer’s Disease Patients with Slower Disease Progression 
Justin Miller, PhD
Brigham Young University 

Gene Changes in Individual Cells Assessed Across the Progression of Alzheimer’s Disease 
Michael Miller, MD, PhD
Brigham and Women's Hospital & Harvard Medical School

Validation of a Biomarker That Could Identify a Subset of Frontotemporal Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease Patients 
Sarah Pickles, PhD
Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville 

A New Method That Uses the 3D Structure of the Human Genome to Identify the Genetic Basis of Alzheimer’s Disease
Ivana Quiroga, PhD
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Investigating How Genetic Risk Contributes to Cerebrovascular Damage in Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Alaina Reagan, PhD
The Jackson Laboratory 

Using Astrocyte Factors to Prevent Synaptic Alterations in Alzheimer’s Disease
Isabel Salas, PhD
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Dissemination of MIND at Home Dementia Care Model to Drive Health Care Transformation and Greater Value
Quincy Samus, PhD
Johns Hopkins University

Deciphering the Alzheimer’s Disease Glyco-Code
Manveen Sethi, PhD
Boston University 

Role of Platelet-Derived Factors in Ameliorating Alzheimer’s Disease Pathology 
Saul Villeda, PhD
University of California, San Francisco 

Understanding the Role of Lysosome in Brain Function and Alzheimer’s Disease
Shuo Wang, PhD
Baylor College of Medicine 

Development of Synthetic Gene Feedback Circuits to Prevent Tau Aggregation
Benjamin Wolozin, MD, PhD
Boston University 

A Novel Way to Expand Human-Derived Pathogenic Tau Seeds in a Cell Free System
Hong Xu, PhD
University of Pennsylvania  

Study Vascular Dysfunction of Cerebral Perforating Arteries in the Pathogenesis of VCID/AD
Lirong Yan, PhD
This grant is made possible in part by support from Alzheimer’s Los Angeles University of Southern California 

Fingerprinting In Vivo and In Vitro Prion Strains 
Hyunjun Yang, PhD
University of California, San Francisco                



Macular Degeneration



Leading scientists from around the world will begin research projects to prevent inflammation, better understand advanced macular degeneration, and develop new treatments for patients.

Engineered Eye Tissue Models to Analyze Mechanisms of Age-related Vision Loss
Kapil Bharti, PhD
National Institutes of Health/ NEI

A New Therapeutic Strategy to Treat AMD
Sabrina Carrella, PhD 
Fondazione Telethon, Roma, (Italy)

A Novel Method for Modeling AMD in a Dish 
Jennifer Chao, MD, PhD 
University of Washington 

Discovery of New Methods to Regenerate Cone Photoreceptors 
Mark Emerson, PhD 
The City College of New York, City University of New York

Understanding the Role of Support Cells, known as Glia in Geographic Atrophy
Malia Edwards, PhD
This grant was made possible in part by the support of the Victor and Anna Mae Charitable Foundation Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins Medicine

Examining the Role of Choroidal Blood Flow in AMD
Bradley Gelfand, PhD 
University of Virginia 

Targeted Proline Metabolism in Age-related Macular Degeneration
Jianhai Du, PhD
West Virginia University (Morgantown, WV)

Immune Cell Specific DNA Modifications and Gene Expression in Age-related Macular Degeneration
Willard Freeman, PhD
Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (Oklahoma City, OK)

Exploring the Role of Gut Bacteria in Early AMD
Christopher Hammond, MD, MRCP, FRCOphth 
King's College London (United Kingdom)

Evaluating a Novel Mechanism and Target for Wet AMD
Priyatham Mettu, MD  
Duke University Eye Center, Durham, NC

The Gut Bacteria and AMD in Aging Women 
Amy Millen, PhD 
University of New York at Buffalo

Generating Precision Model for Age-related Macular Degeneration Research
Jurgen Naggert, PhD
The Jackson Laboratory (Bar Harbor, ME)

Elucidating How Smoking Causes Advanced Age-related Macular Degeneration
Claudio Punzo, PhD
University of Massachusetts Medical School (Worcester, MA)

Profiling of Immune Cell Subtypes in AMD Patients and Controls 
Philip Ruzycki, PhD
This award is made possible by support from The Ivan Bowen Family Foundation. Washington University in Saint Louis 

Role of Lipids (Deposits) in Causing Dry AMD
Dorota Skowronska-Krawczyk, PhD
The Elizabeth Anderson Award University of California, Irvine 

A Novel Method for Treating Wet AMD Reversibly with Single Intraocular Injection
Shusheng Wang, PhD
Tulane University (New Orleans, LA)

Development of Gene Editing as a Permanent Cure for Wet Age-related Macular Degeneration
Glenn Yiu, MD, PhD
University of California, Davis (Davis, CA)






Leading scientists from around the world will begin research projects to prevent nerve cell death, improve drainage within the eye, and develop a greater understanding of the connection between brain health and glaucoma.

Cell Replacement in Glaucoma: Making Mature RGCs
Petr Baranov, MD, PhD 
Schepens Eye Research Institute, Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Harvard Medical School 

A Dietary Supplement in Treatment of Glaucoma 
Jeffrey Boatright, PhD 
Emory University

Genetics of Glaucoma in Africa
Kathryn Burdon, PhD 
University of Tasmania, (Australia)

A Novel Use of Specialized Pro-resolving Mediators to Treat Glaucoma
Kin-Sang Cho, PhD 
Schepens Eye Research Institute, Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Harvard Medical School 

Preventing Vision Loss by Helping Doctors Predict and Treat Exfoliation Syndrome in Patients
Karen Curtin, PhD 
University of Utah 

Regulation of APBB2 Gene Expression and How it Influences Risk for Glaucoma 
John Fingert, MD, PhD 
University of Iowa

Using Electric Fields To Regenerate the Optic Nerve
Kimberly Gokoffski, MD, PhD
University of Southern California Roski Eye Institute (Los Angeles, CA)

Identifying Factors that Protect Ganglion Cells from Death after Optic Nerve Injury
Jeffrey Gross, PhD 
University of Pittsburgh 

Determine the Genetic Element on Human Chromosome 9 that Increases Risk for Glaucoma
Gareth Howell, PhD
The Jackson Laboratory (Bar Harbor, ME)

A Novel Tool for Seeing Neuron Cells in the Eyes of Glaucoma Models 
Yali Jia, PhD 
Oregon Health and Science University 

Defining the Importance of Extrinsic Signaling in Glaucoma Neurodegeneration
Richard Libby, PhD
University of Rochester Medical Center (Rochester, NY)

Insights into a Naturally Occurring Glaucoma Model
Amanda Melin, PhD 
University of Calgary (Canada)

Astrocytes Regulate the Health and Degeneration of Retinal Ganglion Cells in Glaucoma Neurodegeneration
Jason Meyer, PhD
Indiana University (Indianapolis, IN)

A Novel Model Enabling Identification of Strategies for Replacing Lost Cells and Restoring Vision in Glaucoma Patients
Jef Mumm, PhD 
Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins Medicine

Investigating Risk Factors for Primary Open-angle Glaucoma in People of African Descent
Alberta Thiadens, MD, PhD
Erasmus Medical Center (Rotterdam, The Netherlands)

Direct Observation and Manipulation of Energy Regulation in Retinal Neurons During Glaucoma
Philip Williams, PhD 
Washington University in St. Louis

Identifying Which Retinal Ganglion Cell Types Die Earlier in Glaucoma
Siamak Yousefi, PhD 
University of Tennessee


* Pending contract negotiations and/or approved content.