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May 6, 2019

From Bench to Bedside and Back Again: ARVO Comes to Canada

The phrase “from the bench to the bedside” is often used to describe the path to new medical treatments, beginning with a discovery at the laboratory “bench” and finishing when patients can be treated at the “bedside.” In 2019, the theme of ARVO, the world’s largest international vision science conference, was “from the bench to the bedside and back again.” Adding the words “back again” is particularly meaningful because it challenges a common misunderstanding about medical research: the path to new treatments is not linear. Instead it is a circular web, where patient experiences at the bedside continually drive new discoveries at the bench.

Driven by this exciting premise, the atmosphere at ARVO was electric – and FBC was on-hand to live-tweet the ARVO experience to its community! The pace of research has undeniably accelerated in recent years, especially in the field of gene therapy. Twenty years ago, scientists were making discoveries at the bench that demonstrated it was theoretically possible to treat genetic eye diseases using gene therapy. Today, one gene therapy is approved for use at “the bedside,” more than 50 clinical trials are underway to test potential gene therapies for a variety of genetic eye diseases, and for more common diseases like age-related macular degeneration. Many of these clinical trials were profiled at ARVO, and Dr. Robin Ali, a member of Fighting Blindness Canada’s Scientific Advisory Board, received the prestigious Champalimaud Vision Award along with six of the exceptional scientific pioneers who were recognized for creating the world’s first gene therapy for a form of childhood blindness, a version of Leber Congenital Amaurosis.      

Thanks to you, Fighting Blindness Canada (FBC) was proud to be representing the patient community at ARVO, and proud to be supporting a diverse range of research projects featured on the international stage. Some of the FBC-funded scientists who shared their work included:

  • Dr. Elise Héon, Hospital for Sick Children, who shared her team’s effort to identify a new inherited retinal disease! Additionally, together with her colleagues and lead author, Vaishnavi Batmanabane,Dr. Héon reported the positive results of obtaining genetic testing and diagnoses for children living with blinding eye diseases. 
  • Dr. Orson Moritz, University of British Columbia, who reported his laboratory’s effort to understand the biochemistry and cell biology of genetic eye diseases.
  • Dr. Ian MacDonald, University of Alberta, who shared his team’s efforts to develop novel approaches to gene therapy. 
  • Dr. Catherine Tsilfidis, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, and recipient of the Restore Vision 20/20 Award, who discussed her team’s effort to develop an ocular gene therapy that stops the eye’s precious light-sensitive photoreceptor cells from dying in order to save vision.
  • Dr. Richard Kramer, University of California, Berkeley, and recipient of the Restore Vision 20/20 Award, who shared his research that has revealed a new molecular pathway in the eye with the potential to treat retinal ganglion cells, thereby opening up new treatment avenues for a variety of different eye diseases.
  • Dr. Brian Ballios, University of Toronto, and recipient of FBC’s Clinician-Scientist Emerging Leader Award, who shared his research focused on identifying critically important molecular markers in retinal stem cells.

We were also thrilled to be on-hand to watch Dr. Mike Sapieha accept the prestigious Cogan Award. Presented annually, the Cogan Award recognizes an outstanding researcher under the age of 45 who has made important and worthwhile contributions to research in ophthalmology or vision science. In his acceptance lecture, Dr. Sapieha discussed how his research opens up new treatment avenues for the many different eye diseases that involve the abnormal growth of blood vessels, such as diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration.

This is only a snapshot of what happened at ARVO: there were many more FBC-funded scientists presenting their work! Congratulations and thank you to all of them for their extraordinary dedication.

Developing safe and effective sight-saving treatments is not a straightforward path because the clinicians and patients are continuously learning critically important information about what works and what doesn’t. This is why the treatment road doesn’t end at the bedside: it always leads back to the bench, where research discoveries—driven by your support—are transforming the future of care.

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