BrightFocus Foundation

BrightFocus Foundation Holds Congressional Briefing on Health Equity

Bipartisan congressional briefing highlighted the importance of funding and diversity in research to improve health equity, cure brain and vision diseases.
  • Press Release
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As part of its 50th-anniversary celebration, BrightFocus Foundation hosted a bipartisan congressional briefing on Capitol Hill Wednesday, June 14, at 11:30 a.m., Health Equity Begins in the Lab: Future Breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s, Macular Degeneration, and Glaucoma Research Depend on Robust Funding and Clinical Trial Diversity.   

A panel of scientists, thought leaders, and advocates joined policymakers to discuss why an increase in research funding and educational outreach, along with an increase in clinical health data representation and trial participation by minority groups, is essential to ensuring the next medical milestones don't leave millions behind. BrightFocus President and CEO Stacy Pagos Haller moderated. 

Honorary co-chairs:

  • Senators Mike Braun (R-IN), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Tina Smith (D-MN), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) 

  • Representatives Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Jim Clyburn (D-SC), Tom Cole (R-OK), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Rob Wittman (R-VA), and Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-USVI) 

The congressional briefing preceded BrightFocus’ 50th Anniversary Celebration and Awards event, which took place at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian at 6:30 p.m. on June 14.  

A video recording of the panel portion of the briefing, along with additional information, will be made publicly available following the event.

About the Panelists

Headshot of Tonya Matthews.

Tonya M. Matthews, PhD

CEO, International African American Museum

Dr. Matthews is a member of the BrightFocus Foundation board of directors and CEO of the International African American Museum (IAAM) located in Charleston, S.C. Dr. Matthews is a thought leader in institutionalized equity and inclusion frameworks, social entrepreneurship, and the intersectionality of formal and informal education. She received her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Johns Hopkins University and her BSE in biomedical and electrical engineering from Duke University.

Debra Tann, EdD

Debra Tann, EdD

CEO, Reminiscent, and Dementia Advocate

Dr. Tann is a nationally recognized advocate for dementia, CEO of the brain health organization Reminiscent in Valdosta, Ga., and author of “The Race of Dementia.” Dr. Tann is working tirelessly to eradicate healthcare disparities as it relates to diagnosis rates, access to early treatment, quality care, clinical research, and trial participation rates among Black and Latino populations. She is also a lecturer at Georgia State University’s gerontology department and serves on the clinical research team.

Preeti Subramanian, PhD

Preeti Subramanian, PhD

Director, Vision Science Research, BrightFocus Foundation

Dr. Subramanian oversees the Macular Degeneration Research and National Glaucoma Research programs at BrightFocus Foundation. She ensures a high level of scientific accountability within the BrightFocus grant programs and engages and maintains a strong relationship with the scientific community. Before joining BrightFocus, Dr. Subramanian was a research scientist at the National Eye Institute (NIH) for more than 10 years. She received her Ph.D. in biochemistry from Virginia Commonwealth University, where she identified a novel role for bioactive sphingolipid ceramide 1 phosphate (C1P) in mediating inflammation. 

Mae Gordon, PhD

Mae Gordon, PhD

Washington University School of Medicine

Dr. Gordon is a professor in the Departments of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and Division of Biostatistics, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri. Chief among Dr. Gordon’s contributions to eye research is the development of new measures and protocols. For the “Collaborative Longitudinal Evaluation in Keratoconus,” the first large-scale observational cohort study of Keratoconus, she helped develop the first photo-documentation protocol of corneal scarring with high test-retest and inter-grader reliability. Because this study did not have pilot data, a 10% random sample was recalled for retesting to confirm assumptions used to project statistical power. She received the Koch Award from the American Academy of Optometry for this collaboration. Other measures developed by Dr. Gordon include photo-documentation of contact lens fit in Keratoconus eyes, vision-specific quality of life survey in children with cerebral palsy, and the “Glaucoma Symptom Questionnaire.” 

Gerard D. Schellenberg, PhD

Gerard D. Schellenberg, PhD

Genetics Expert and Director, Neurodegeneration Genomics Center, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine

Dr. Schellenberg is a professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, where he is co-head of the Penn Neurodegeneration Genomics Center, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Genetics Consortium, and co-director of the Genomic Center for Alzheimer’s Disease. His work focuses on applying advanced genome technology to finding human disease genes; he is one of the founders of the International Genomics of Alzheimer’s Disease Project, as well as a recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including the Potamkin Prize for Alzheimer’s Disease Research from the American Academy of Neurology and an R37 Merit Award for Genomic Analysis of Alzheimer’s Disease from the National Institute on Aging. Dr. Schellenberg received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of California, Riverside.

Daisy Y. Shu, PhD

Ophthalmology Department, Harvard Medical School

Dr. Shu’s research focuses on the pathogenic mechanisms underlying age-related eye diseases. Her work investigates the roles of mitochondrial and metabolic dysfunction in retinal eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration and proliferative vitreoretinopathy. She completed her Ph.D. at the University of Sydney, Australia. Her research has been recognized by several awards and grants, including the prestigious and competitive Fight for Sight and BrightFocus Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowships. Dr. Shu’s work has been published in leading peer-reviewed journals such as Progress in Retina and Eye Research, Scientific Reports, and Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences.

About BrightFocus Foundation  

Now in its 50th year, BrightFocus Foundation is a premier global nonprofit funder of research to defeat Alzheimer’s, macular degeneration, and glaucoma. Through its flagship research programs — Alzheimer’s Disease Research, National Glaucoma Research, and Macular Degeneration Research — the Foundation has awarded nearly $300 million in groundbreaking research funding and shares the latest research findings, expert information, and resources to empower the millions impacted by these devastating diseases. Learn more at

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