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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. This research is the backbone of our community and our primary tool for identifying the causes, treatments and, ultimately, cures for eye diseases.

Thanks to your generosity, Fighting Blindness Canada is funding six new research awards in 2020! Here is a list of the winners from our 2019 grant competition:

Scientific Title: Novel treatments for blindness caused by neurotrophic keratopathy: role of stem cells, innervation, and therapeutics
Lead Investigator: Dr. Gregory Borschel
Institution: The Hospital for Sick Children, Research Institute
Granted: $300,000 over 2 years

Neurotrophic keratitis is a degenerative disease that affects the clear outer layer of the eye, called the cornea. In patients with neurotrophic keratitis, nerves in the eye are damaged and the cornea loses the ability to sense stimulation. This leads to scarring, and eventually vision loss. In this project Dr. Borschel’s team will use an animal model of neurotrophic keratitis which they have developed to test strategies to improve nerve regeneration and to identify drugs that can increase the ability of the cornea to heal.

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: $300,000 over 2 years

People living with retinitis pigmentosa experience gradual vision loss which is caused by the death of light sensing cells in the retina, called photoreceptors. In this project, Dr. Bremner and his team will use a high throughput technology to identify proteins that are causing the cell to die. They will then test drugs to stop this from happening.

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.

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.

FBC and its generous supporters are currently committed to funding an additional 14 ongoing studies focused in three major areas of research:

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: Defining the Connections and Survival Mechanisms of Retinal Interneurons

Lead Investigator: Dr. David Picketts
Institution: Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Granted: $240,000 over 3 years, July 2016 – June 2019

Dr. Picketts aims to UNDERSTAND vision loss by studying how inner retinal neurons mature, what factors are important for their survival and how they integrate and modulate photoreceptor signals. This fundamental knowledge will increase the success of emerging therapies to treat retinal degeneration.

Scientific Title: Whole Genome Sequencing of Patients with Early Onset Retinal Dystrophies

Lead Investigator: Dr. Elise Héon
Institution: The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids)
Granted: $240,000 over 3 years, July 2016 – June 2019

At SickKids, Dr. Héon and her team are only able to identify mutations in approximately half of the people who are diagnosed with a retinal degenerative disease. In this project, Dr. Héon will use the latest sequencing technology and a targeted strategy to identify the greatest number of mutations possible and test why these mutations lead to vision loss. The team aims to UNDERSTAND why these mutations lead to retinal degeneration with the goal of developing new treatment strategies

Scientific Title: Temporal Identity Factors: Opening New Avenues for Cell Therapy in Retinal Degeneration

Lead Investigator: Dr. Michel Cayouette
Institution: Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal
Granted: $125,000 from FBC / $990,000 from Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)
Duration: July 2016 – July 2021

Read more about this project

Scientific Title: Ocular Inflammatory Modulators in Age-related Macular Degeneration: A Role for Locally Accumulating Vitamin D

Lead Investigator: Dr. Jacob Rullo
Institution: Queen’s University
Granted: $60,000 over 2 years, October 2018 – October 2020

Dr. Jacob Rullo is studying the connection between vitamin D inside the eye and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in the aging population. Dr. Rullo will examine if vitamin D levels in the eye are lower in patients with AMD and study how AMD affects the levels of vitamin D. Considering the burden AMD has on the aging population, determining the role vitamin D plays could have enormous treatment potential.

Read more about this project

Scientific Title: Development of a Drug that Prevents Photoreceptor Death and Vision Loss
Lead Investigator: Dr. Philippe Monnier
Institution: Krembil Discovery Research Institute, University Health Network, Toronto
Granted: $240,000 over 3 years, July 2016 – June 2019

Dr. Philippe Monnier demonstrated that he could PRESERVE vision in three different laboratory models of retinitis pigmentosa (RP) by manipulating neogenin. Dr. Monnier is now focused on gathering essential pre-clinical data to enable a clinical trial testing a neogenin-based treatment for people living with blinding eye disease.

Read more stories about Dr. Monnier

Scientific Title: Why Does the Drug Valproic Acid (VPA) Prevent Some Forms of Blindness and Make Others Worse?
Lead Investigator: Dr. Orson Moritz
Institution: University of British Columbia
Granted: $240,000 over 3 years, July 2016 – June 2019

Dr. Moritz has shown that the drug valproic acid (VPA) prevents blindness in some genetic forms of RP but worsens it in other forms. In this study, he aims to PRESERVE vision by identifying the exact enzymes that are involved in these effects to learn how they are impacting vision loss with the goal of discovering additional drugs that could be used to prevent blindness.

Read more stories about Dr. Moritz

Scientific Title: Impact of Obesity on Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Lead Investigator: Dr. Przemyslaw (Mike) Sapieha
Institution: Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont
Granted: $240,000 over 3 years, July 2016 – June 2019

Dr. Sapieha is exploring how the microbes of our body (the microbiome) affect obesity, the body’s immune response and ultimately the progression of AMD. By studying new wet-AMD pathways, he aims to identify new therapeutic targets for the disease that can help to PRESERVE sight.

Read more stories about Dr. Sapieha

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

Lead Investigator: Dr. Matthew Benson
Institution: University of Alberta
Granted: $60,000 over 2 years, October 2018 – October 2020

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.

Read more about this project

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 stories about Dr. Nagy

Scientific Title: Bioengineered Cell Delivery Systems for the Transplantation of Stem Cell Progeny for Retinal Regeneration

Lead Investigator: Dr. Brian Ballios
Institution: University of Toronto
Granted: $80,000 over 3 years, March 2017 – March 2020

Dr. Ballios will use stem cells to generate the light-sensitive cells (photoreceptors) lost in many different blinding eye diseases and transplant those cells directly into the retina. He will explore more efficient ways of making photoreceptors from stem cells and develop new approaches to helping those transplanted cells survive and make connections in the damaged eye.

Read more

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: $800,000 over 2 years, December 2018 – December 2020

Dr. Gamm is conducting critical pre-clinical studies to test the safety and effectiveness of a potential stem-cell replacement therapy for people living with late-stage retinitis pigmentosa.

Read more

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 

Scientific Title: Development of a Neogenin Based-Strategy to Prevent Photoreceptor Degeneration

Lead Investigator: Dr. Philippe Monnier
Institution: Krembil Research Institute
Granted: $200,000 over 2 years, December 2018 – December 2020

Dr. Monnier is developing a new drug that has the potential to preserve both rod and cone photoreceptors. His research plan includes key components of a full drug development pipeline that extends from discovery of lead compounds to a translational strategy aimed at initiating clinical trials. Dr. Monnier has evidence that this drug could be effective for people living with retinitis pigmentosa as well as other diseases that involve the loss of photoreceptor cells, such as age-related macular degeneration.

Read more 

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 

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