Within a couple short days, BrightFocus’ leadership of vision science, and its support of bold, innovative research into glaucoma and macular degeneration, will be showcased on a world stage.
ARVO 2018, the annual spring meeting of Association for Research into Vison and Ophthalmology, brings together the world’s top scientists. Its members include nearly 12,000 vision scientists from more than 75 countries.
Among that group, BrightFocus is emerging as a major nonprofit funder through its Macular Degeneration Research (MDR) and National Glaucoma Research (NGR) programs, funding programs that span international borders and scientific disciplines. BrightFocus grants are known for taking early and bold risks on the untried, unexpected, and most promising scientific paths to treatments and cures.
ARVO highlights some of the leading vision research in the world, and this year, more than 80 peer-reviewed abstracts—each representing a podium talk or a poster session—carry BrightFocus’ name as a funder through MDR or NGR.
[BrightFocus grants supporting research into macular degeneration, glaucoma, and Alzheimer’s disease, are available worldwide. To learn more, click here, or visit ARVO Booth #1033. You can also call 1-800-437-2423 or send an email to info at BrightFocus.org.]
Here’s an advance look at ARVO 2018 highlights.
Do Your Eyes Need a New Lifestyle?
That’s why Diane Bovenkamp, PhD, who is vice president of Scientific Affairs at BrightFocus, organized a “first” at this year’s ARVO, a two-hour symposium devoted to the evidence behind lifestyle interventions for both AMD and glaucoma. It will focus mainly on benefits of exercise, nutrition, and dietary supplements, reviewing the studies and what their results say about the benefits for each.
Experts will include Emily Chew, MD, of the National Eye Institute, a leader of the landmark federal Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS I and II) which led to the “eye vitamin” regimen prescribed in early-to-moderate AMD; and Ian Trounce, PhD, of the Centre for Eye Research and University of Melbourne in Melbourne, Australia, a past NGR grantee who has focused his career on understanding what makes older eyes vulnerable to glaucoma.
Bovenkamp will give an introductory talk and help moderate the session, along with Adriana Di Polo, PhD, of the University of Montreal, who’s a member of the NGR Scientific Review Committee, and David Calkins, PhD, a past NGR grantee who’s on the faculty at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
“It’s hopeful to think that we can take steps to reduce the burden of AMD and glaucoma,” Bovenkamp said. “The point of the symposium will be to shed a hard light on the evidence, and to inform future actions and research in these areas.”
Stay tuned for information.
Neuronal Health in AMD and Glaucoma: Lifestyle-based Therapies to Live Long and Prosper will take place on Thursday, May 3.
What Makes a Hot Topic?
The ARVO Scientific Program Committee pays special attention to research that reveals a promising new direction or an emerging trend. These are designated as Hot Topics, and of thousands of abstracts submitted, just a fraction—3 to 5 percent—are selected.
This year, three BrightFocus-funded presentations, in particular, stood out as Hot Topics.
Once this happens, microRNAs (miRNA), or small strands of noncoding genetic material that can modify and regulate gene activity in and around the cell, may signal new vessel growth as part of a misguided “rescue” effort. While multiple miRNAs may be involved , and multiple miRNAs are being studied, Chen has locked in on one in particular, miRNA-145, that’s increased in experimental wet AMD models. She believes inhibiting miRNA-145 might work as a therapy against wet AMD (ARVO Abstract No. 762).
Neurons each have a single long fiber, called an axon, extending from their cell bodies. These axons are bundled together in the optic nerve, and then extend into the brain, carrying light signals that produce vision. For some time, scientists have postulated that microtubule structures (MTs) in the outer shell of axons, which normally transport nutrients and other substances in and out, may be disrupted in early glaucoma, and that the resulting “starvation” leads to cell death and vision loss.
Donald Zack, MD, PhD, of Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University, is a guru in the field of gene manipulation and was responsible for a major advance to CRISPR gene editing techniques that made them exponentially more useful (more details). He’s held grants from both NGR and MDR and has collaborated on numerous BrightFocus-funded projects.
BrightFocus Supports Travel Fellowships for Young Vision Scientists
BrightFocus has provided funding for four ARVO Foundation Travel Grants, making it possible for four young investigators to attend ARVO 2018. It’s ARVO policy that these recipients not be publicly named, but they have written BrightFocus to express appreciation for the opportunity to attend ARVO and present their work.
Providing support in this way is a great way to encourage young vision researchers early in their careers. A win for ARVO and a win for BrightFocus!
Honoring Outstanding Scientists
Also at ARVO 2018, BrightFocus President and CEO Stacy Haller will present the 2018 Helen Keller Prize for Vision Research, a prize sponsored by BrightFocus and selected by an awards committee at the Helen Keller Foundation for Research and Education. Created in Keller’s memory, that family foundation seeks to prevent blindness and deafness through support for research and education, causes its namesake worked tirelessly to achieve.
Now considered by many to be the ‘Nobel prize’ of vision science, the Keller prize encourages collaboration across scientific disciplines. This kind of teamwork, with scientists the world over sharing their success, will lead to “game-changing breakthroughs” against vision disease, in the words of BrightFocus President and CEO Stacy Haller.
Past Keller laureates have included Gerrit Melles, MD, PhD (2017), a cornea specialist from Rotterdam, the Netherlands, who invented a new procedure that revolutionized corneal transplant surgery; Dean Bok, PhD (2016), on the research faculty at UCLA, who made groundbreaking discoveries about photoreceptor outer segment renewal and vitamin A (retinol) processing in the retina; Gordon Legge, PhD, and Robert Massof, PhD, of the University of Minnesota and the Johns Hopkins’ Wilmer Eye Institute, respectively, who have done pioneering work in low vision research and rehabilitation (2015 joint award); and Emily Chew, MD (2014), of the National Eye Institute, a leader of the federal Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS) that heralded a regimen of specific “eye vitamins” for macular degeneration. For additional winners, click here.
The 2018 Keller laureate(s) will be announced at a dinner on May 4.
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Some of the content in this section is adapted from other sources, which are clearly identified within each individual item of information.