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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: 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: Function of Usher Syndrome protein PCDH15 in photoreceptor maintenance
Lead Investigator: Dr. Vincent Tropepe
Institution: University of Toronto
Granted: $177,500 over 2 years

Usher syndrome is a genetic disorder that causes hearing and vision loss beginning as early as childhood. While we know many of the genes that are responsible for Usher Syndrome, scientists do not understand how these mutations lead to vision loss. In this project Dr. Tropepe will use a zebrafish model to study a mutation in gene. This gene mutation affects approximately 20% of patients with the most severe form of Usher syndrome, USH1. Dr. Tropepe’s team wants to understand why and how mutations in the pcdh 15b gene cause photoreceptor cell death and if gene therapy can help restore vision.

Scientific Title: Deciphering the first gene for pigmentary glaucoma
Lead Investigator: Dr. Michael Walter
Institution: University of Alberta
Granted: $216,000 over 2 years

Pigmentary glaucoma is a form of glaucoma that occurs when pigment particles from the coloured part of the eye, called the iris, are released and clog up the drainage system in the eye. Left untreated this can cause vision loss or blindness.  Dr. Walter’s team recently discovered that a mutation in the PMEL gene can cause some forms of pigmentary glaucoma. In this project the team will study how this mutation impacts the eye’s drainage system. This information may help scientists develop new treatments for pigmentary glaucoma.

Learn more about Dr. Walter’s project.

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 four enrolment sites: Edmonton, Halifax, Toronto, and Vancouver, with a fifth site in Montreal opening in 2020.

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: Development of a new differential visual acuity test for infants with blindness and vision loss
Lead Investigator: Dr. Susan Leat
Institution: University of Waterloo
Granted: $171,300 over 2 years

Detecting vision loss early is important so children can receive sight-saving treatments or get support to improve their quality of life. Currently it is hard to diagnose children who are younger than three years old as the tests rely on children being able to identify letters or match shapes. Dr. Leat’s team has developed a new test for children. This project will determine whether these tests are more sensitive and effective than current tests, which would facilitate earlier diagnoses for children.

Scientific Title: Intravenous rAAV MiniPromoter-PAX6 gene therapy for the congenital blindness aniridia
Lead Investigator: Dr. Elizabeth M Simpson
Institution: University of British Columbia
Granted: $296,747 over 2 years

Aniridia is an eye disorder where the iris, the coloured part of the eye, is partially or completely absent. Individuals with aniridia usually have low vision from birth and develop glaucoma and cataracts, which can lead to blindness. Most cases of aniridia are caused by a mutation in the PAX6 gene. Dr. Simpson and her team will test gene therapy as a new treatment option for this gene. The team will study the effectiveness of PAX6 gene therapy in an animal model of aniridia. This is an important step before this treatment can be considered for human trials.

Funded by the Estate of Doreen Powles

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
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.

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: Developing a “photo-switch” drug for light-sensitive cells
Lead Investigator: Dr. Richard Kramer
Institution: University of California, Berkeley
Granted: $300,000 over 3 years, May 2018 – May 2021

Dr. Kramer is developing a “photo-switch” drug with the potential to restore sight by “switching” cells that are not light-sensitive into cells that are light-sensitive. We are proud to be funding Dr. Kramer’s research in partnership with the Foundation Fighting Blindness in the United States. We collaborate closely with our friends south of the border to ensure that we are not duplicating efforts. We strategically work together to better achieve our shared goal of driving the development of new sight-saving treatments.

Read more about this project.

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.

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: Restoring blood-retina barrier integrity with antibody-based agonists: a potential therapy for vascular retinopathies
Lead Investigator: Dr. Sachdev Sidhu
Institution: University of Toronto
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.

Scientific Title: Anti-apoptotic therapy for the treatment of retinitis pigmentosa
Lead Investigator: Dr. Catherine Tsilfidis
Institution: Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Granted: $430,000 over 2 years, December 2018 – December 2020

Dr. Tsilfidis is conducting essential pre-clinical studies to test the safety and effectiveness of a potential new gene therapy treatment for retinitis pigmentosa (RP). She is using a broad-based approach that targets a common feature to all forms of RP – the death of the photoreceptors. Her team is studying the X-linked inhibitor of apoptosis (XIAP) as a therapeutic for the treatment of RP. XIAP is a universal therapy that promotes photoreceptor survival, irrespective of the initial cause of disease.

Read more about this project.

Our inaugural vision research competition, ‘Eye on the Cure presented by FYidoctors’, premiered on Saturday November 13th, 2021. Finalists pitched their research to an esteemed judges panel for a $50,000 Researcher to Watch Award and the general public who voted on the $30,000 Heathbridge People’s Choice Award.

Dr. Jovi Wong (University of Toronto) won the Researcher to Watch Award, with the project “Using a smartphone to diagnose eye disease earlier”

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

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

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