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FBC Funded Research

Every year, donors of Fighting Blindness Canada (FBC) fund research taking place in hospitals and universities across Canada, and around the world. FBC and its generous supporters are currently committed to funding studies focused in three major areas of research. Below are descriptions of the research projects that FBC is currently funding.

Learn more about awards that FBC has funded in the past.

Understand  – To comprehend the causes and effects of eye diseases
Preserve  – To retain and protect vision for people living with eye diseases
Restore  – To restore lost vision and cure blinding eye diseases

Scientific Title: Targeting metabolic abnormalities in retinitis pigmentosa
Lead Investigator:
Dr. Peter Campochiaro
Institution: Wilmer Eye Institute, John Hopkins University
Granted: $47,500

Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is often caused by mutations in genes that are specific to rod photoreceptors, which are responsible for night and peripheral vision. However, once rod photoreceptors die, this is often followed by loss of cone photoreceptors, responsible for detail and central vision. Disrupted metabolism may be one of the reasons that cone photoreceptor cells die. Dr. Campochiaro is studying if he can shift metabolic pathways in order to improve photoreceptor survival in an animal model of RP.

Funded by Andrew and Yvette Marriott.

Scientific Title: Assessing neuroprotection in glaucoma by single retinal ganglion cell imaging
Lead Investigator: Dr. Balwantray Chauhan
Institution: Dalhousie University
Granted: $192,095 over 2 years

Glaucoma is a major cause of vision loss caused by loss of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) within the optic nerve. Dr. Chauhan will use a newly developed imaging technique to visualize RGCs and improve our understanding of how they degenerate in glaucoma. The team’s goal is to find new biomarkers of glaucoma progression in order to improve the development of neuroprotective therapies.

Scientific Title: The role of complement factor D (adipsin) in the pathogenesis of the Stargardt phenotype in ABCA4-deficient mice
Lead Investigator:
Dr. Bob Chow
Institution: University of Victoria
Granted: $27,000

Stargardt disease affects the macula, a part of the retina that is responsible for detail and central vision with vision loss generally beginning during childhood or the teenage years. Most cases of the disease are caused by mutations in the gene ABCA4. Dr. Chow is using a genetic approach to see if blocking part of the inflammatory reaction (Complement D) slows the progression of Stargardt disease in an animal model.

Read more about this project.

Scientific Title: Retinopathy of prematurity treatment database
Lead Investigator: Dr. Anna Ells
Institution: University of Calgary
Granted: $8,775 over 2 years

Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is a condition where blood vessels grow abnormally in the retinas of premature infants. Dr. Ells is compiling three decades of patient records from the Calgary Health Region into a single database. This will allow researchers to study the impact of new treatments in order to improve treatments and outcomes for individuals with ROP.

Scientific Title: Investigating the role of microglia in retinal diseases: a key in shaping new treatments
Lead Investigator: Dr. Delphine Gobert
Institution: Université Laval
Granted: $60,000

Diabetic retinopathy affects more than half a million Canadians, and can cause severe vision loss. It is the leading cause of vision loss in working age adults. Diabetic retinopathy is caused by high blood sugar, which can lead to retinal damage. Newer research has suggested that microglia, which are immune cells present in the retina, may play a role in degenerative retinal diseases. Dr. Gobert’s research aims to determine if microglia and their inflammatory response are linked to diabetic retinopathy. This research will contribute to a better understanding of the mechanisms causing diabetic retinopathy and may ultimately help develop targeted therapies that can reduce the impact of this complication of diabetes.

Dr. Delphine Gobert is the recipient of the Andrew and Valerie Pringle Inspiring Future Vision Star award.

Scientific Title: Antisense therapy for the treatment of visual loss in Usher Syndrome
Lead Investigator: Dr. Robert Koenekoop
Institution: The Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre
Granted: $226,960 over 5 years, 2019 – 2024

Dr. Robert Koenekoop will be starting a natural history clinical trial in Canada for individuals with Usher syndrome caused by mutations in the USH1C gene. This study is an important step in the process of bringing a new treatment to clinical trials-especially for rare diseases. It helps researchers understand more about the disease and is critical to find patients who may be eligible for any future treatment.

Learn more about Dr. Koenekoop’s research.

Scientific Title: Neurovascular dysfunction along the visual pathway in glaucoma: interpericyte tunneling nanotubes, a new therapeutic target for vision loss.
Lead Investigator: Dr. Luis Alarcon-Martinez
Co-Investigators: Dr. Adriana Di Polo (University of Montreal), Dr. Keith Martin (Centre for Eye Research Australia)
Institution: Centre for Eye Research Australia
Granted: $1,249,722

Glaucoma is a leading cause of vision loss caused by damage to the optic nerve. Dr. Alarcon-Martinez and his co-investigators will use cutting edge imaging technology to understand how disrupted blood supply causes optic nerve damage in glaucoma. This research may lead to a new understanding of the causes of glaucoma and novel treatments to prevent vision loss.

Scientific Title: Spatial stratification of human corneal endothelial cell populations in Fuchs endothelial corneal dystrophy, and implications for regenerative cell therapy
Lead Investigator: Dr. Stephan Ong Tone
Institution: Sunnybrook Research Institute
Granted: $200,000 over 2 years

Fuchs endothelial corneal dystrophy (FECD) is a disease that causes vision loss, eye pain, and the accumulation of fluid in the cornea. In FECD, cells in the inner layer of the cornea, called corneal endothelial cells, or CECs, are damaged. Dr. Ong Tone is researching the different types of CECs that are found in the cornea of individuals with and without FECD. This research may lead to the development of new treatments for FECD, such as regenerative cell therapy.

Scientific Title: Investigating risk factors and prognosis in patients with septo-optic dysplasia (SOD) and optic nerve hypoplasia (ONH)
Lead Investigator: Dr. Michael Salman
Institution: University of Manitoba
Granted: $57,171 over 2 years

Septo-optic dysplasia (SOD) and optic nerve hypoplasia (ONH) are congenital conditions caused by small nerves in the eye, and are the leading cause of poor vision in children. The causes of these conditions are unknown. Dr. Salman’s project aims to identify potential risk factors for SOD and ONH in order to lead to better risk reduction strategies and support for children with these eye diseases.

Scientific Title: Deciphering the role of neutrophils in the development of bacterial keratitis
Lead Investigator: Dr. Ajitha Thanabalasuriar
Institution: McGill University
Granted: $200,000 over 2 years

Bacterial keratitis is inflammation of the cornea caused by an infection. This is a common problem for people who wear contact lens users or have suffered an eye injury. Infections can be difficult to treat if the bacteria produce a biofilm that is resistant to antibiotics. This research will investigate how bacteria form biofilms in order to help identify better treatment options.

Scientific Title: Characterization of sleep quality and circadian rhythms in bilateral optic neuropathies
Lead Investigator: Dr. Jovi Wong
Institution: University of Toronto
Granted: $20,000

Circadian rhythms are predictable 24-hour cycles that influence many aspects of our health including our sleep-wake cycle. The optic nerve which carries light signals to the brain also helps the brain identify the time of day. In this project Dr. Wong will study if circadian rhythms are disrupted in patients with diseases such as glaucoma that cause damage to the optic nerve.

Scientific Title: Single cell mRNA sequencing of peripheral blood mononuclear cells in birdshot uveitis
Lead Investigator: Dr. Kirill Zaslavsky
Institution: University of Toronto
Granted: $40,000

Birdshot uveitis is a sight-threatening immune-mediated eye disease that typically affects 40 to 60-year-old women. It is treated with immune-suppressive therapy, however, treatment response is hard to predict and it is not clear what causes the disease. Dr. Zaslavsky is using single-cell mRNA sequencing to determine which immune cells contribute to birdshot uveitis in order to gain a better understanding of the causes of this disease and establish a framework for dissecting other autoimmune retinal conditions.

Scientific Title: Investigating the function of PIKFYVE in the retinal pigment epithelium
Lead Investigator: Ehsan Misaghi
Institution: University of Alberta
Granted: $40,000

Ehsan Misaghi is enrolled in a joint MD/PhD program at the University of Alberta. His PhD focuses on the PIKFYVE gene that has recently been found to cause retinal degeneration. Ehsan will be studying the role that PIKFYVE plays in the structure and function of retinal pigment epithelial cells.

The Fighting Blindness Canada (FBC) Patient Registry is a secure anonymous medical database that collects information about Canadians living with inherited retinal diseases (IRDs) to connect them to research and clinical trials for emerging treatments. Founded in 2004, the registry was the first of its kind for IRDs in the world. There are currently six enrolment sites: Edmonton, Halifax, Toronto (two sites), Vancouver, and Montreal.

The FBC Patient Registry helps demonstrate there is a market for clinical trials in Canada and will ensure Canadians living with inherited retinal diseases are not left behind.

Learn more about the FBC Patient Registry.

Funded in part by the Vision Health Research Network and the Estate of Doreen Powles.

Scientific Title: Investigating the Effect of a PEX6 Mutation on Peroxisome Structure and Function

Lead Investigator: Dr. Matthew Benson
Institution: University of Alberta
Granted: $120,000 over 4 years

Dr. Benson is studying a genetic condition that leads to significant vision and hearing loss. Specifically, he is exploring how mutations in the PEX6 gene impact the structure and function of an important part of the cell called the “peroxisome.” Recent studies have shown that the drug chloroquine can improve peroxisome function, and Dr. Benson will test chloroquine as a potential sight-saving treatment for patients who have a PEX6 mutation.

Dr. Matthew Benson is the recipient of the Andrew and Valerie Pringle Inspiring Future Vision Star award.

Read more about this project.

Scientific Title: A platform to identify new drug targets for retinitis pigmentosa
Lead Investigator: Dr. Rod Bremner
Institution: Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, Sinai Health System
Granted: $200,000 over 2 years

Dr. Bremner is looking for universal treatments, that are independent of gene mutation, for retinitis pigmentosa. Dr. Bremner’s team is trying to identify proteins that cause rod photoreceptor death and then block protein function with drugs to increase photoreceptor survival. This innovative screening system could also be used to identify death-causing proteins for many other types of inherited retinal diseases.

Funded in part by Rita and Glen Popwich & Don and Nita Reed

Watch Dr. Bremner’s talk on the importance of funding vision research.

Scientific Title: Improving the understanding and management of non-infectious uveitis using proteomics profiling, database studies with machine learning and decision modelling approaches
Lead Investigator: Dr. Tina Felfeli
Institution: University of Toronto
Granted: $60,000

Non-infectious uveitis is a group of inflammatory eye conditions that can lead to vision loss. While the condition is treatable, a large proportion of patients develop complications which can lead to vision loss. Dr. Felfeli’s research aims to identify better diagnostic and treatment strategies for individuals living with non-infectious uveitis. Using proteomics, artificial intelligence, and economic modelling techniques she hopes to offer treatment pathways with fewer complications, ultimately helping to reduce the risk of vision loss.

Dr. Tina Felfeli is the recipient of the Andrew and Valerie Pringle Inspiring Future Vision Star award.

Scientific Title: Dysbiotic events and the risk of neovascular age-related macular degeneration
Lead Investigator: Dr. Matthew Quinn
Institution: Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Granted: $20,000

Changes in the microbiome can be caused by inflammation and have been linked to wet age related macular degeneration (AMD). Matthew will use population-level databases to determine if there is an association between common clinical events that disrupt the microbiome and AMD progression. This knowledge may help to develop new treatments or prevention strategies for AMD.

Scientific Title: A mutation independent pharmacological approach to treat inherited retinal degeneration.
Lead Investigator: Dr. Marius Ueffing
Institution: University of Tübingen
Granted: $426,000

Dr. Ueffing is developing a novel neuroprotective drug therapy to reduce photoreceptor death and slow vision loss in inherited retinal diseases (IRDs). This therapy has the potential to impact individuals with many different types of IRDs such as retinitis pigmentosa (RP).

Scientific Title: Seeing into the future – understanding the long-term sequelae of Retinopathy of Prematurity
Lead Investigator: Dr. Tianwei Ellen Zhou
Institution: Université de Montréal & University of Toronto
Granted: $60,000 over 2 years, 2020 – 2022

Dr. Tianwei Zhou is studying retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) – an eye disease that can happen in preterm babies. ROP causes abnormal blood vessels to grow in the retina. These vessels can leak or blead which can cause blindness if not treated. Dr. Zhou is studying if, even after treatment, babies with ROP are at a higher risk of vision loss as they age. By monitoring this, doctors may be able to better diagnose and treat vision loss in children and adults who had ROP.

Funded by the Estate of Doreen Powles

Learn more about Dr. Zhou’s research.

Scientific Title: Project OPEN: Diabetic Retinopathy Screening to Prevent Blindness
Lead Investigators: Dr. Michael Brent, Dr. Valeria Rac
Institution: Diabetes Action Canada and University Health Network

Vision loss from diabetic retinopathy is often preventable if it’s detected early, however up to 40% of people living with diabetes don’t get screened on an annual basis. Project OPEN is using administrative health data to identify people living with diabetes who have not had an eye examination in more than a year. Those identified are then offered a free screening appointment at a community health centre. The program has a particular focus on underserved communities living with diabetes, such as new immigrants, young people and those from low-income or marginalized communities, who may not realize that they are eligible to receive a preventative eye exam. The goal of this research project is to validate that this model can prevent vision loss and blindness through identifying and engaging patients and giving them improved access to eye screening.

Funded by The Toronto Dominion Bank

Read more about this project

Scientific title: Treatment of BBS10 in the mouse Bbs10-/- model using the Human BBS10 gene in 2 different vectors
Lead Investigators: Dr. Arlene Drack
Institute: University of Iowa
Granted: $758,117 over 2 years

Bardet-Biedl syndrome (BBS) is a rare, inherited disorder that affects many parts of the body including a person’s vision. Dr. Drack is testing if a new gene-replacement therapy improves vision in an animal model of BBS10 with the aim of bringing a successful treatment to clinical trials in the near future.

Scientific Title: Preclinical evaluation of an iPSC-derived photoreceptor therapeutic in canine models of retinitis pigmentosa
Lead Investigator: Dr. David Gamm
Institution: University of Wisonsin-Madison
Granted: $1,525,000 over 4 years

This project is testing a new stem cell therapy in an animal model of retinitis pigmentosa. The team will test if photoreceptors from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) can integrate into the retina and improve vision. If these preclinical experiments are successful, the ultimate aim is to the launch a clinical trial to test this as a potential treatment for retinitis pigmentosa.

Read more about this project.

Scientific Title: Rhegmatogenous Retinal Detachment with or without Scleral buckle (REDOS): a factorial randomized controlled trial
Lead Investigator: Dr. Mélanie Hébert
Institution: Université Laval
Granted: $40,000

Retinal detachment occurs when the retina, the light sensing part of the eye, pulls away from the back of the eye. It is an acute, sight-threatening condition. There are two main methods to treat retinal detachment, scleral buckle and vitrectomy. Dr. Hébert is launching a randomized clinical trial to determine whether vitrectomy alone or vitrectomy with scleral buckle is better. This study aims to inform clinical practice and reduce irreversible vision loss caused by retinal detachments.

Institution: University of Toronto
Granted: $1,000,000

This award will help establish a professor position focused on the genetics of eye disease at the University of Toronto. This position will spearhead development of an Ocular Genetics Research Centre in Toronto to promote genetic testing, research and clinical trials into blinding eye diseases.

Funding provided by the Hill family.

Scientific Title: Re-wiring visual circuits to restore sight in retinal degenerative disorders
Lead Investigator: Dr. Julie Lefebvre
Institution: Sick Children’s Hospital
Granted: $200,000 over 2 years

Loss of photoreceptor cells is the main cause of vision loss in many inherited retinal diseases as well as in other types of retinal degeneration. It is not known whether other types of retinal cells can still process visual information after photoreceptors die. Dr. Lefebvre’s team will be combining optogenetics and circuit mapping research techniques to learn more about how retinal circuit connections are affected by blindness, and what happens when they are reactivated with optogenetic therapy.

Funded in part by the Throssell Family Grant

Scientific Title: Combined Cell and Gene Therapy Towards the Treatment of Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Lead Investigator: Dr. Andras Nagy
Institution: Lunenfeld Tanenbaum Research Institute, Mount Sinai Hospital
Granted: $770,000 over 4 years, July 2018 – June 2022

Dr. Nagy aims to RESTORE SIGHT by developing a new therapy that combines both stem cells and gene therapy to offer patients with wet age-related macular degeneration a ‘one shot’ permanent treatment.

Support provided by the Cedric Ritchie Fund to Cure Blindness

Read more about Dr. Nagy

Scientific Title: Adeno-associated virus-mediated gene therapy as a treatment for Fuchs endothelial corneal dystrophy
Lead Investigator: Dr. Stephan Ong Tone
Institution: Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and Sunnybrook Research Institute
Granted: $60,000

Fuchs endothelial corneal dystrophy (FECD) is a disease that can disrupt vision, causing blurred or cloudy vision and pain, due to fluid accumulation in the cornea. The main treatment for advanced FECD is corneal transplant surgery, but more treatment options are needed. Dr. Ong Tone will be developing a CRISPR-based gene therapy to treat FECD. This research could ultimately lead to personalized gene therapy treatments for patients with FECD.

Scientific Title: Adverse Event Outcomes and Cost Analysis of Retinal Detachment Repair Procedures in Ontario, Canada: The ASPIRE Study
Lead Investigator: Dr. Marko Popovic
Institution: University of Toronto
Granted: $50,000

Retinal detachment occurs when the retina, the light sensing part of the eye, pulls away from the back of the eye. It is an acute, sight-threatening condition. Two well-known treatments are pars plana vitrectomy and pneumatic retinopexy however the optimal treatment is unknown. This population-based, real-world evidence study will compare the safety, effectiveness and cost implications of these retinal detachment repair procedures. The project aims to inform decision-making and impact clinical practice.

Scientific Title: Restoring blood-retina barrier integrity with antibody-based agonists: a potential therapy for vascular retinopathies
Lead Investigator: Dr. Sachdev Sidhu
Institution: University of Waterloo
Granted: $200,000 over 2 years

The blood-retinal barrier (BRB) is important for proper retinal function and can be disturbed in eye diseases like age related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic retinopathy leading to vision loss. Dr. Sidhu is testing a new antibody treatment aimed at restoring BRB function.

2021

Dr. Jovi Wong (University of Toronto), $50,000 Researcher to Watch Award “Using a smartphone to diagnose eye disease earlier”

Dr. Stephan Ong Tone (Sunnybrook Research Institute), $30,000 the Heathbridge People’s Choice Award “Developing a new therapy to improve success of corneal transplantation”

Learn more about these projects, the other finalists and the event.

2022

Dr. Bob Chow & Dr. Bridget Ryan (University of Victoria), $50,000, Research to Watch Award, “Towards Understanding Stargardt Disease”

Dr. Anna Ells (University of Calgary) & Dr. Ellen Zhou (University of Toronto), $30,000, Heathbridge Capital People’s Choice Award, “Avastin versus Lucentis in Treating Retinopathy of Prematurity”

Learn more about these projects, the other finalists and the event.

2023

Dr. Kirill Zaslavsky (University of Toronto), $25,000, FYidoctors Research to Watch Award, “Comprehensive adaptive immune repertoire sequencing in birdshot chorioretinitis”

Dr. Qianqian Wang & Dr. Jiaru Liu (University of Montreal), Healthbridge Capital People’s Choice Award, “Efficacy of insulin eye drops in the treatment of open-angle glaucoma, a phase II clinical trial”

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