2023 BrightFocus Research Grant Awards

For more than 50 years, BrightFocus Foundation has supported cutting-edge research into Alzheimer’s disease, macular degeneration, and glaucoma. See what we are funding this year:


Female researcher in lab with microscope.

Alzheimer's Disease Research

With generous donor support, BrightFocus Foundation’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research program has funded nearly $170 million in research to understand and cure Alzheimer’s. With our grants, scientists worldwide are tackling the disease from many angles, investigating how complex systems (cardiovascular, endocrine, and immune) interact to develop earlier detection strategies and novel treatments. Our current portfolio of 157 projects worldwide offers huge promise and opportunity in fighting this heartbreaking disease.

Grants Awarded in 2023:

Do Tau Deposits Affect Blood Oxygen Supply to the Brain? 
Sung Ji Ahn, PhD
Weill Cornell Medicine
Mentor: Costantino Iadecola, MD

Visualizing How Amyloid-Beta Strands Interact in Alzheimer's Disease 
David Boyer, PhD
University of California, Los Angeles
Mentor: David S. Eisenberg, MD

Imaging Markers of Blood Clotting in the Alzheimer's Disease Brain
Marta Casquero-Veiga, PhD
Jiménez Díaz Foundation Health Research Institute (Spain)
Mentor: Marta Cortes-Canteli, PhD

Novel Molecules to Tackle Toxic Amyloid-Beta Production in Alzheimer's 
Lucía Chávez-Gutiérrez, PhD
Flanders Institute for Biotechnology (Belgium)

Harmful Protein Spreading to Neurons in Alzheimer’s Disease
Olga Chechneva, PhD
Shriners Hospitals for Children - Northern California

Disrupted Sleep Cycles and Alzheimer's Disease Risk 
Jingyuan Chen, PhD
Massachusetts General Hospital (Mass General)

Does the Little-Studied Big Tau Protect Against Alzheimer's Disease? 
Daheun Chung, PhD
Baylor College of Medicine
Mentor: Huda Y. Zoghbi, MD

Disrupted Nuclear Protein Trafficking in Frontotemporal Dementia 
Alyssa Coyne, PhD
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Understanding the Cellular and Vascular Response to Alzheimer’s Drugs
Kate Emily Foley, PhD
University of Kentucky Research Foundation
Mentor: Donna M. Wilcock, PhD

Tracking Immune Cells in Alzheimer's Disease Brains 
David Gate, PhD
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Identifying Brain-Wide Network Disruptions That Underlie Alzheimer's Disease
Ariel Gilad, PhD
Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel)

Imaging the Rescue of Memory in Alzheimer’s Disease Mice 
Matthew Isaacson, PhD
Cornell University
Mentor: Nozomi Nishimura

A Newly Discovered Version of Toxic Tau as a Therapeutic Target in Alzheimer's Disease
Daniel C. Lee, PhD
University of Kentucky Research Foundation

Exploring the Origins of Tau Pathology in the Human Brainstem Locus Ceruleus 
Meaghan Morris, MD, PhD
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Characterizing the Range of Tau Forms Linked to Different Brain Diseases 
Henry Pan, PhD
University of California, San Francisco
Mentors: Carlo Condello, PhD; William DeGrado, PhD

The Role of the Basal Forebrain in Early Detection of Alzheimer's Disease
Joost Michiel Riphagen, MD, PhD
Massachusetts General Hospital (Mass General)
Mentor: Keith A. Johnson, MD

Targeting Brain Immune Cells as a Novel Therapeutic in Alzheimer's Disease
Carla Rothlin, PhD
Yale University
Co-Principal Investigator: Sourav Ghosh, PhD

Preclinical Testing of a CRISPR-Based Alzheimer’s Gene Therapy
Subhojit Roy, MD, PhD
University of California, San Diego

Testing Candidate Therapies Targeting Dysfunction of Support Cells in Alzheimer's Disease 
Maria Virtudes Sanchez Mico, PhD
Massachusetts General Hospital (Mass General)
Mentor: Brian Bacskai, PhD

Unfolding Alzheimer's Tau Therapies: Near- and Long-Term Approaches
Paul Seidler, PhD
University of Southern California
Co-Principal Investigator: Daryl Davies, PhD

The Role of White Matter Injury in Alzheimer's Disease
Zahra Shirzadi, PhD
Massachusetts General Hospital (Mass General)
Mentor: Jasmeer Chhatwal, MD, PhD, MMsc

Pinning Down How Alzheimer's Risk Gene BIN1 Controls Brain Immune Responses
Ari Sudwarts, PhD
University of South Florida
Mentor: Gopal Thinakaran, PhD

Identifying Therapeutic Targets to Prevent Amyloid Accumulation 
Arun Upadhyay, PhD
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Mentors: Jeffrey N. Savas, PhD; Robert J. Vassar, PhD

Iron Spreading Patterns in Alzheimer's Disease
Louise Van der Weerd, PhD
Leiden University Medical Center (Netherlands)
Co-Principal Investigator: Boyd Kenkhuis, PhD

Testing a Mitochondria-Targeting Compound in Alzheimer's Disease 
Qi Wang, PhD
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (Switzerland)
Mentor: Johan Auwerx, MD, PhD

How the Brain's Support Cells Interact with Fats and Contribute to Alzheimer's Disease 
Till Zimmer, PhD
Weill Cornell Medicine
Mentor: Anna G. Orr, PhD

In addition to the grants above that were recommended by our Scientific Review Committee, Alzheimer's Disease Research awarded more than $1.3 million across eight grants to support other ongoing scientific efforts including the continuation and expansion of the International Down Syndrome Biobank Consortium, exploring interventions like yoga and meditation, strengthening international research collaborations, and funding training opportunities for early-career investigators.

Macular Degeneration Research

Through the generosity of our donors, Macular Degeneration Research (MDR), a BrightFocus Foundation program, has awarded nearly $46 million to fund research projects on the causes and potential prevention, treatment, and cure of this disease. As of July 2023, MDR is supporting 58 macular degeneration projects worldwide.

Grants Awarded in 2023:

The Role of Mitochondrial Dysfunction in Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Navdeep Gogna, PhD
The Jackson Laboratory
Mentor: Patsy M. Nishina, PhD

Role of the Microsomal Transfer Protein in Retinal Lipid Transport: Implications for Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Catharina Grubaugh, PhD
University of Pennsylvania
Mentor: Kathleen Boesze-Battaglia

Imaging Tiny Blood Vessels in the Eye for Markers of Age-Related Macular Degeneration 
Yali Jia, PhD
Oregon Health & Science University

What Squirrels Can Teach Us About Treating Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Sangeetha Kandoi, PhD
University of California, San Francisco
Mentor: Deepak A Lamba, PhD

Uncovering Immune-Related Factors Driving Retinal Pigment Epithelium Repair
Lyndsay Leach, PhD
The University of Texas at Austin

Elucidating the Relationship Between Complement and RPE Glucose Metabolism 
Rayne Lim, PhD
University of Washington
Mentor: Jennifer Chao, MD

Tracking How Rare Eye Immune Cells Respond to Damage in Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Abdelilah Majdoubi, PhD
Yale University
Mentor: Brian Hafler, MD, PhD

How Age-Related Macular Degeneration Risk Factors Interact in Disease Development
Freya Mowat, PhD
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Identifying Signals That Draw Immune Cells to Damaged Tissues in Age-Related Macular Degeneration 
Kelly Mulfaul, PhD
University of Iowa

Stem Cell Therapy for Early Age-Related Macular Degeneration 
Narendra Pandala, PhD
University of Iowa
Mentor: Budd Tucker, PhD

Immune Cell Traps in Inflammation and Wet Age-Related Macular Degeneration 
Matthew Rutar, PhD
University of Canberra

Surveying the Glycan Landscape of the Human Retina
Jaclyn Swan, PhD
University of California, San Diego Health Sciences
Mentor: Pascal Gagneux, PhD

A Newly Discovered Eye Immune Environment in Age-Related Macular Degeneration
James Walsh, MD, PhD
Washington University in St. Louis
Mentor: Jonathan Kipnis, PhD

In addition to the grants above that were recommended by our Scientific Review Committee, Macular Degeneration Research awarded $200,000 across five grants to support ongoing scientific efforts, including providing travel fellowships for early-career investigators from underrepresented groups to share their work with the world at scientific conferences.

National Glaucoma Research

BrightFocus, through its National Glaucoma Research program, is one of the world’s leading nonprofit funders of glaucoma research, having supported nearly $50 million in scientific grants exploring the root causes and prevention strategies and treatments to end glaucoma. As of July 2023, National Glaucoma Research is supporting 61 active glaucoma research projects across the globe.

Grants Awarded in 2023:

Boosting Neuronal Energy to Improve Vision in Glaucoma
Adriana Di Polo, PhD
University of Montreal Hospital Center (Canada)

Defining the Role of a New Protein Target in Fluid Buildup in Glaucoma 
Rupalatha Maddala, PhD
Duke University School of Medicine
Co-Principal Investigator: Pratap Challa, MD; Vasantha Rao, PhD

An Effective Tool for Understanding Dysfunctional Eye Drainage in Glaucoma
Weiming Mao, PhD
Indiana University

An Optimal Form of Nerve Growth Factor as a New Neuroptective Drug for Glaucoma
Silvia Marinelli, PhD
European Brain Research Institute (Italy)
Co-Principal Investigator: Francesca Malerba, PhD

Targeting Eye Immune Cells to Prevent Glaucoma-Induced Nerve Damage
Shubham Maurya, PhD
University of California, Berkeley
Mentor: Karsten Gronert, PhD

Modulating Neuroinflammation in Glaucoma by GLP-1R Agonist
Kazuya Oikawa, PhD, BVSc
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Mentor: Gillian McLellan, BVMS, PhD, DECVO, DACVO, FARVO (Mentor)

Building a Better Model to Screen for Intraocular Pressure-Lowering Glaucoma Drugs
Darryl Overby, PhD
Imperial College London (UK)

Using Laser Pulses to Smooth the Way for Transplanted Retinal Ganglion Cells in Glaucoma
Karen Peynshaert, PhD
Ghent University (Belgium)
Mentor: Katrien Remaut, PhD

Long-Lasting, Nonsurgical Treatment for Eye Pressure in Glaucoma
Mark Prausnitz, PhD
Georgia Institute of Technology

Mapping the Pathways of Neurodegeneration in Glaucoma Using Artificial Intelligence
Karthik Shekhar, PhD
University of California, Berkeley

Harnessing Artificial Intelligence to Improve Glaucoma Clinical Trials
Jithin Yohannan, MD
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

In addition to the grants above that were recommended by our Scientific Review Committee, National Glaucoma Research awarded nearly $500,000 across two grants to support ongoing scientific efforts, including providing travel fellowships for early-career investigators from underrepresented groups to share their work with the world at scientific conferences.

All grants will be awarded pending the conclusion of contract negotiations.