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May 20, 2015

New Research Beginnings: Making Ideas Into Reality

July is a month of new beginnings. At Fighting Blindness Canada, July 1st marks the start of a new research year. While our nation was celebrating Canada Day, we were also celebrating the official commencement of the winning research projects from our annual grant competition.

Any researcher will tell you that it’s very difficult to determine where a research project starts and ends—research is an ongoing process. In the research world, scientists often measure their progress and success by the papers that they publish. Each paper tells a story about a new discovery. Scientists also measure research progress by the number and kinds of grants that they receive to support their work. The beginning of a new research grant signifies the start of a new story.

We recently spoke with one of the new grant recipients, Sabiha Hacibekiroglu, who submitted a successful application to develop a combined gene and stem cell therapy to treat age-related macular degeneration along with her co-applicant and PhD supervisor, Dr. Andras Nagy. We chatted about eyes, research, Vision Quest and her hopes for the future.

Question: At Fighting Blindness Canada, operating grants cover three years of research. You are about to begin: What are some of the things that you think about at the beginning of a project?

Sabiha: Most of the cell lines (different kinds of cells) that I will be working with have already been developed. Now we need to find out which one of these cells will be best to treat age-related macular degeneration. Currently, I’m thinking about testing these different cells in mouse models to find the one cell type best suited for treatments in humans.

Question: What do you find most exciting about the beginning?

Sabiha: I can finally buy the equipment that I need! I am excited to actually start doing all of the experiments that I’ve been thinking about.

Question: What are your biggest hopes over the next three years?

Sabiha: That it’s going to work! Let me elaborate: my hope is that we will be able to find a cell line that can incorporate into an animal model and eventually into patients. Since there are already ongoing clinical trials to treat vision loss with stem cells, my hope is that once we find the right cell line, we’ll be able to proceed much faster.

Sabiha has lots of ideas about how to drive her research forward, but she knows that it is a complicated process with lots of players. You can learn more about how Sabiha is planning to “translate” research into therapies at this year’s Vision Quest!

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