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Jun 22, 2015

Investing In The Best: Our 2015 Operating Grant Winners

We only invest in the best research. But how do we choose? How do we predict which research project is the most promising hope for the future? The answer is peer review—a tried and true method that is used around the world to critically evaluate new research. Studies show that this is the best way to drive research forward. This is why we are so grateful to our Scientific Advisory Board, who volunteer their time and expertise to carefully evaluate every new research proposal that is submitted to Fighting Blindness Canada’s annual grant competition.

On June 1st, members of the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) gathered in FBC’s office to discuss and assess the 2015 grant proposals. It was a grueling and intellectually stimulating day—there are so many exciting ideas, new collaborations, and innovative plans to combat vision loss. After a lively debate, combined with careful reflection and analysis, the SAB identified four winning projects. These projects fuel our hope for the future by laying the groundwork for new treatments.

We celebrated the SAB’s hard work, commitment, and dedication to our mission with an inspiring InSight Dinner made possible by our generous community and our hosts at Sassafraz in Yorkville. At the event, we were not yet able to introduce the winning projects. Today, we are thrilled to be sharing the results because each new project has truly transformative potential.

Drum roll… announcing the winners of Fighting Blindness Canada’s 2015 grant competition:

1) Dr. Christian Salesse from Laval University, who is studying a protein in the eye called Lecithin retinol acyltransferase, or LRAT for short. In some degenerative eye diseases, such as retinitis pigmentosa (RP), the eye’s light-sensitive cells (photoreceptors) stop working because LRAT is malfunctioning. The SAB agrees, “there is no doubt that the structure of LRAT will be an important step to understanding vision and treating blindness.”

2) Dr. Andras Nagy from the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital is world-renowned for discovering a method to create stem cells from other cells of the body, a breakthrough which overcame a major hurdle in regenerative medicine. He is also widely recognized for his research that manipulates how cells express different molecules. In his new FBC-funded project, he is using this expertise to transform the treatment of wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) with a revolutionary plan that would require just a single injection of genetically-modified cells. The SAB predicts “there is probably no one in the world that is better suited to carry out this work.”

3) Dr. Sarah McFarlane from the University of Calgary plans to study the eye’s retinal pigmented epithelial (RPE) cells. The SAB agreed that, “we need to learn more about RPE cells because they are already being used in clinical trials to treat vision loss.”  This treatment strategy requires transplanted RPE cells to move into the correct position in the eye. Understanding how and why RPE cells move is therefore critically important. Yet, we know very little about these cells. To solve the mystery, Dr. McFarlane will use live-tracking methods to visualize RPE movements in zebrafish; these tiny fish hold important clues that stand to benefit ongoing and future clinical trials involving RPE cells.

4) Dr. Gilbert Bernier from Hopital Maisonneuve-Rosemont received renewal funding to support his ongoing efforts to develop strategies to generate cone photoreceptors from stem cells. He is making great strides forward and the SAB all agreed that, “nobody is doing anything like this!” Dr. Bernier plans to transplant these cells with the aim of developing a new treatment for a wide array of retinal degenerative diseases.

At Fighting Blindness Canada, we know that investing in research like this is our best way to change the future for people living with blinding eye diseases. Thank you to our Scientific Advisory Board and thank you to our incredible donors who make everything possible.

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