July 1, 2019

Research to Prevent Blindness awards grants to Department of Ophthalmology

Vanderbilt Eye Institute receives grants to Research to study causes, treatment and prevention of blinding diseases.

Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) recently awarded three grants to investigators in the Department of Ophthalmology to support research into the causes, treatment and prevention of blinding diseases.

The Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Department of Ophthalmology received an RPB Unrestricted Grant, which provides $115,000 a year to support research activities within the department. It will be allocated by Paul Sternberg Jr., MD, George W. Hale Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and chair of the department.

The two other grants — both worth $300,000, acknowledge the novel, ground-breaking research into AMD, the leading cause of irreversible vision loss.

Sabine Fuhrmann, PhD
Sabine Fuhrmann, PhD

Kevin Schey, PhD, professor of Biochemistry and Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, is the recipient of the RPB Catalyst Award for Innovative Research Approaches for Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) while Sabine Fuhrmann, PhD, associate professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and Cell and Developmental Biology received the RPB/American Macular Degeneration Foundation (AMDF) Catalyst Award for Innovative Research Approaches for AMD.

“These RPB grants provide extraordinary recognition for Vanderbilt’s leadership in the vision research community, complementing our national ranking as fourth in federal funding,” Sternberg said. “The Vanderbilt Eye Institute and the Vanderbilt Vision Research Center are committed to supporting basic and translational research to address the challenges of blinding disease.”

Kevin Schey, PhD
Kevin Schey, PhD

Schey’s project brings together three renowned labs that will meld the imaging modalities of optical coherence tomography (OCT) and imaging mass spectrometry (IMS) in the analysis of AMD to offer the opportunity to develop a new tool for AMD diagnosis and allow physicians to make more informed decisions on the clinical management of the blinding eye disease.

“The impact of the proposed approach will undoubtedly lead to new molecular discoveries in AMD-affected retina tissue and add novel molecular information to OCT analysis of AMD eyes,” said Schey, director of Vanderbilt MSRC Cores and deputy director of Research for the Imaging Mass Spectrometry Center. “The clinical impact is significant, and I am excited about the possibility to enhance the diagnosis and treatment of AMD, a leading cause of blindness worldwide.”

Fuhrmann’s work targets the dysfunction and degeneration of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), which is responsible for the progressive deterioration of the retina seen in AMD.

“Our goal is to promote regeneration of new RPE by pharmacological modulation of key signaling pathways through the identification of small molecule regulators,” said Fuhrmann. “This work is critical in developing an innovative regenerative medicine approach to a major disease for which there is very limited treatment potential.”

The $300,000 grants will be dispersed over a two-year period.

RPB is the world’s leading voluntary organization supporting eye research, and the Department of Ophthalmology has received continuous funding since the organization’s inception in 1960. The American Macular Degeneration Foundation (AMDF) is a patient-centered foundation that supports potentially game-changing Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) research, education and advocacy in order to improve quality of life and treatment outcomes for all those affected by AMD.