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Macular Fast Track

Macular Fast Track 2021 Banner
BrightFocus Foundation will hold its first Macular Fast Track workshop in 2021 to help speed progress towards finding a cure for macular degeneration by investing in promising young scientists in the field of vision research.

It will be held on September 27, 2021, at Sonesta Nashville Airport Hotel, Nashville, TN.

BrightFocus Foundation will hold its first Macular Fast TrackSM workshop in 2021 to help speed progress towards finding a cure for macular degeneration by investing in promising young scientists in the field of vision research.

Graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, or other early-stage scientists focused on macular degeneration research, or those who want to enter the field can take advantage of this unique opportunity to accelerate their path towards becoming an expert in this exciting field by:

  • immersing themselves in the background knowledge and latest discoveries in macular degeneration research
  • connecting with preeminent macular degeneration scientists and fellow early-stage researchers based in the U.S. and around the world

Register Here



  • Joe G. Hollyfield, Ph.D.
  • John D. Ash, Ph.D.


Fast Track Program



Preeti Subramanian, Ph.D., Director of Scientific Programs, Vision Science, BrightFocus Foundation
John D. Ash Ph.D., Ophthalmology, University of Florida

8:15 - 9:00

The Macula and Fovea of the Human Eye: Anatomy, Development, and Aging

Joe G. Hollyfield Ph.D., Cole Eye Institute

9:00 - 9:45

Clinical Diagnosis of AMD (wet vs dry), Age-related vs Early Onset

Jacque Duncan M.D., Ophthalmology, University of California, San Francisco

9:45 -10:30

Genetics of Macular Degeneration (age-related and early onset)

Michael Gorin M.D. Ph.D., Ophthalmology, University of California, Los Angeles

10:30 - 11:00Coffee Break
11:00 - 11:45

Histopathology of AMD (wet vs dry)

Gerard A Lutty, Ph.D., Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins Medical Center

11:45 - 12:30

Animal Models for AMD (neovascular models)

Bela Anand-Apte MBBS, Ph.D., Cole Eye Institute

12:30 - 13:45Lunch with Speakers
13:45 - 14:30

Animal Models for AMD (RPE and Bruch's membrane studies)

Catherine Bowes Rickman Ph.D., Ophthalmology, Duke University

14:30 - 15:15

In Vitro Models for AMD (cell and tissue culture analysis)

Kapil Bharti Ph.D., Ocular and Stem Cell Translational Research Unit, National Eye Institute

15:15 - 16:00

Metabolic Defects and Oxidative Damage Involvement in AMD

Deborah Ferrington, Ph.D., Ophthalmology and Visual Neurosciences, University of Minnesota

16:00 - 16:30Coffee Break
16:30 - 17:15

Immunology and Microglia in AMD

Daniel Saban Ph.D., Ophthalmology and Immunology, Duke University

17:15 - 17:45

Drug Targets and Clinical Trials from AMD

James T. Handa M.D., Ophthalmology, Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins Medical Center

17:45Closing comments and adjourn


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Joe Hollyfield, Ph.D.

Joe G. Hollyfield Ph.D.
Joe G. Hollyfield, PhD, is Emeritus Chairman of Ophthalmic Research and the Llura and Gordon Gund Emeritus Professor of Ophthalmic Research in the Cole Eye Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio. He received a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin and conducted postdoctoral studies at the Hubrecht Laboratory in Utrecht, The Netherlands. He has held faculty positions at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City (1969-77) and at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas (1977-95). He has published over 200 original research papers in the area of cell and developmental biology of the retina and retinal pigment epithelium investigating both normal and retinal degeneration tissues. He has edited 19 books on the eye and retinal diseases. In 1984, he, Robert E. Anderson and Matthew M. LaVail organized the first Retinal Degeneration Symposium, which has continued every other year through the current meeting in Mendoza, Argentina in 2020. He has received awards from the Retina Research Foundation, Research to Prevent Blindness, the Alcon Research Institute, a Distinguished Alumnus Award from Hendrix College, the Proctor Medal from the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, the Balazs Prize from the International Society for Eye Research. He was Editor-in-Chief of Experimental Eye Research for 26 years (1991-2017). He has held a number of elected offices in scientific societies, including the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (Program Committee, 1975; Trustee, 1989-94; President 1994) and the International Society for Eye Research (Secretary 1984-87; President 1988-91). He has served on the scientific advisory boards of the Foundation Fighting Blindness, Research to Prevent Blindness, Knights Templar Eye Research Foundation, Helen Keller Eye Research Foundation, South African Retinitis Pigmentosa Foundation, Retina International and BrightFocus Foundation. He became Emeritus Professor at the Cleveland Clinic in 2017. He continues to be active on several scientific advisory boards and review panels.


Jacque Duncan M.D.

Jacque Duncan M.D.
Dr. Duncan is the Steven G. Kramer Endowed Chair and Professor of Clinical Ophthalmology, and she is the director of the Retinal Degenerations Clinic at the University of California, San Francisco. She is also Chair of the Foundation Fighting Blindness Scientific Advisory Board and Chair of the Foundation Fighting Blindness Clinical Consortium. She graduated with distinction and honors from Stanford University, then spent a year doing research at the University of Colorado while she applied to medical school. She completed medical school, internship and ophthalmology residency at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Duncan completed a medical retina fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania, working with Drs. Stuart Fine and Samuel G. Jacobson. Her fellowship training focused on patients with age-related macular degeneration and inherited retinal degenerations. She returned to join the ophthalmology faculty at UCSF. Dr. Duncan has expertise in the diagnosis and management of patients with retinal degenerations including age-related macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa, Usher syndrome, cone-rod dystrophy and Stargardt disease. She has a strong interest in developing imaging and monitoring technologies to better evaluate both the progress of disease and the efficacy of emerging therapies. In collaboration with Austin Roorda, Ph.D., Professor at the University of California, Berkeley School of Optometry, she has studied cone photoreceptors in the eyes of patients with many different types of inherited retinal degeneration.


Michael Gorin M.D., Ph.D.

Michael Gorin M.D. Ph.D.
Dr. Gorin has been engaged in multiple areas of eye and vision-related research since 1974. His primary areas of research are in genetics of complex conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, the molecular genetics of retinal and corneal dystrophies, and more recent work on the neurologic and molecular basis of ocular pain, specifically photophobia or light aversion. His research led to the identification of the first genetic loci for AMD, which paved the way for the discoveries of the first major common genetic variants in the CFH and ARMS2 genes. He continues to explore the genetics of AMD as endophenotypes to identify early preclinical biomarkers for this condition. He has studied the natural history and the genetic modifiers of Stargardt Disease in an FFB sponsored 8 year clinical and basic research program and continue to work on the methods to delineate disease progression for inherited retinal disorders, particularly for clinical treatment trials. His laboratory has recently begun using induced progenitor cells to study the etiology of Stargardt disease in patients for whom we can only detect a single disease-causing variant in ABCA4, The current work in his laboratory on the neural basis of photophobia, was inspired by the unexplained light sensitivity experienced by patients with cone dystrophies. Studies in Dr. Gorin’s lab have now identified a potential role for melanopsin-containing trigeminal neurons as a potential connection between nocioception and light detection in a preclinical model of corneal surface injury. Dr. Gorin’s background in clinical ophthalmology (medical retina and ophthalmic genetics), biochemistry/molecular biology, molecular genetics of complex disorders and clinical informatics are all complementary to his research efforts.


Gerard A Lutty, Ph.D.

Gerard A Lutty, Ph.D.
Dr. Lutty is a Professor of Ophthalmology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Lutty has pioneered numerous techniques to visualize the choroidal and retinal vasculatures in two dimensions and recently developed fluorescent flatmount techniques to study their development and pathologies with confocal microscopy. He has studied and published on both the vaso-occlusive and vasoproliferative phases of retinopathy of prematurity and diabetic and sickle cell retinopathies. His lab has documented diabetic retinopathy in spontaneously type 2 diabetic monkeys, and was the first to immunohistochemically localize VEGF, basic FGF, and TGFβ in human retina and choroid. In addition, his lab has evaluated potential anti-angiogenic therapies in dog and mouse models of retinal neovascularization as well as a rat model of choroidal neovascularization. Dr. Lutty’s recent work has focused on the role the choroid in age-related macular degeneration. In these studies, he has documented the loss of choriocapillaris in wet and dry AMD and the factors and cells that may influence this capillary dropout. Dr. Lutty has a long-standing interest in therapies for exudative AMD and geographic atrophy and has created animal models to measure efficacy of the therapies.


Bela Anand-Apte MBBS, Ph.D.

Bela Anand-Apte MBBS, Ph.D., MBA
Dr. Anand-Apte is Professor of Ophthalmology and Molecular Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine at Case Western reserve University. She joined the Cole Eye Institute at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in September 2000 and currently serves as interim chair. Her research team is interested in exploring the basic biological mechanisms of neovascularization with special emphasis on neovascularization in age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and ocular tumors. Dr Anand-Apte received her MBBS degree (Indian equivalent of the MD degree) from Bombay University, India. Following a residency at the King Edward Memorial Hospital in Bombay, she developed an interest in research and received a Ph.D. degree in Immunology and Microbiology from the Boston University School of Medicine in Boston, Massachusetts. A brief postdoctoral fellowship in the department of Cell and Developmental Biology at Harvard University was followed by a Research Associate position at Children’s hospital in Boston in the Department of Surgical Research. It was here that Dr. Anand-Apte developed her interest in understanding the basic molecular mechanisms of angiogenesis. She has received the Karen Grunebaum award for research in Cancer, the Tom and Sandy Trudell Research Award for the study of retinal degenerative diseases, awarded through the Foundation Fighting Blindness and the Lew Wasserman Award from RPB (Research to Prevent Blindness). Research from her laboratory has led to the understanding of novel functions for matrix metalloproteinases and their inhibitors in neovascularization and its implications in inherited retinal dystrophies and age-related macular degeneration. A more recent focus on regulation of the blood retinal barrier in diabetic retinopathy is providing interesting insights into the loss of vision in diabetes. The ultimate goal is an improved understanding of ocular pathologies that lead to blindness.


Catherine Bowes Rickman Ph.D.

Catherine Bowes Rickman Ph.D.
Dr. Bowes Rickman is a Professor of Ophthalmology with tenure and an Associate Professor of Cell Biology at Duke University. She earned her doctoral degree from the University of California, Los Angeles and completed her postdoctoral fellowship at the Jules Stein Eye Institute. Dr. Bowes Rickman has a long-standing interest in age-related macular degeneration (AMD). In 2000, she moved to Duke University, where she has become a leader in using murine models to elucidate the mechanisms of pathology and progression for AMD. Currently, Dr. Bowes Rickman is using several mouse models developed in her program that faithfully recapitulate many aspects of the human AMD phenotype. Recently, she successfully demonstrated therapeutic rescue from dry AMD in one of these models. Currently, she is using her mouse models with complement dysregulation that incorporate the genetic risk association of complement factor H in combination with other known AMD risk-factors (advanced age and diet) that develop many aspects of the human AMD phenotype to elucidate the mechanisms of pathology and progression for AMD. These mouse models provide an in vivo means to interrogate the pathogenic contribution of genetic, inflammatory and environmental factors to AMD onset and progression and to identify novel therapeutic targets as well as test relevant therapies.


Kapil Bharti Ph.D.

Kapil Bharti Ph.D.
Dr. Bharti’s research is focused on the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), a monolayer of highly polarized cells located in the back of the eye. Dysfunctions in the RPE are thought to be the initiating events leading to degenerative eye diseases. Therefore, a better understanding of the disease initiating pathways in RPE will provide a basis for therapeutic interventions. In collaboration with the NEI clinic, we are obtaining skin biopsies from patients with clinically diagnosed degenerative eye diseases. These biopsies are being used to derive iPS cells. RPE cells differentiated from such iPS cells are used to study events that have led to disease initiation and progression. In collaboration with NCATS, we have combined the patient-specific iPSC approach with high throughput screening assays performed in 384-well plates to identify novel compounds that could act as potential therapeutic agents. In collaboration with new NIH Center for Regenerative Medicine we are developing iPSC-derived RPE tissue for cell-based therapy. We have modified the existing stem cell to RPE differentiation protocols to make them more compliant with current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP-work). Our work uses the most cutting-edge technologies in the field and aims to translate these technologies to a clinical use.


Deborah Ferrington, Ph.D.

Deborah Ferrington, Ph.D.
Considering the aging demographics in the US and across the globe, the impending epidemic in age-related disease could easily overwhelm health care systems worldwide. Thus, there is an urgent need to discover ways to maintain good health in the growing population of elders. The essential foundation for discovering preventions and treatments for age-related diseases is a deeper understanding of aging at the cellular level. This has been the central tenet of my entire research career, starting with my doctoral work on aging muscle and evolving to my current work as an independent scientist with a focus on the aging tissue (retina, muscle) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). My research team has been investigating critical questions driving the field of aging and age-related disease. What are the cellular changes that occur with aging? What factors “tip the balance” to pathology? How does the cell respond to disease? How can we protect against pathologic changes? These are the questions that form the core of my research program. One research focus is on defining the molecular changes that occur in the retina with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the number one cause of blindness among the elderly in developed countries. My lab has used a combination of advanced techniques in molecular biology, biochemistry and proteomics to identify changes in the retina that are tied to the presence and severity of AMD. The ultimate goal of my research is to identify therapeutic targets for treating AMD, which requires a thorough understanding of the disease mechanism.


Daniel Saban Ph.D.

Daniel Saban Ph.D.
Daniel Saban is an Associate Professor of Ophthalmology and Immunology at Duke University School of Medicine. He received his PhD from the University of Florida in Immunology, and completed his postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School, Mass. Eye and Ear Infirmary. Currently, Dr. Saban serves as Scientific Director of the Foster Center for Ocular Immunology at the Duke Eye Center, as well as the co-Director of the Neuroimmunology and Glia Group at the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences and is a member of the Annual Meeting Programs Committee for the Immunology and Microbiology section for the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO). Dr. Saban’s lab studies the role of myeloid cells in the context of ocular health and disease (Reyes et al, Nature Reviews Immunology. 2017). The Saban lab recently identified a population of neuroprotective retinal microglia in models of retinal degenerative diseases (O’Koren and Yu et al. Immunity. 2019). Separately, his lab recently demonstrated a role for neutrophils in driving forms of Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) (Reyes et al, Science Translational Medicine. 2018), the leading cause of dry eye.


James T. Handa M.D.

James T. Handa M.D.
Dr. James T. Handa is the Robert Bond Welch Professor and the Chief of the Retina Division at the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He is a Vitreoretinal surgeon who manages all types of retinal disorders from age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, as well as primary and complex retinal detachments. He is the implanting surgeon at Wilmer for the Argus II retinal chip implant both during the investigation that led to its FDA approval and currently as part of the Wilmer Center of Excellence. He has an active research program. His laboratory focuses on the critical events that trigger the onset of early AMD. In particular, his work has centered on how cigarette smoking injures retinal pigmented epithelial (RPE) cells, and how cytoprotective mechanisms including Nrf2 signaling, autophagy and mitophagy become impaired during disease development. For his work, Dr. Handa has had 25 years of NIH funding as well as grants from the BrightFocus Foundation, Fight For Sight, Foundation Fighting Blindness, the Macular Degeneration Foundation, Research to Prevent Blindness, and the Thome Foundation. He is a member of the inaugural NEI AMD Pathobiology Group under the guidance of NEI Director Paul Sieving, MD, PhD. Dr. Handa is passionate about mentoring, and he has founded the mentoring research program at Wilmer to help junior faculty obtain extramural grant funding that is critical for launching their research programs. Finally, he was the Chairperson of the NEI’s DPVS Study Section, and now serves on the scientific board for the BrightFocus Foundation and Foundation Fighting Blindness.

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