August 8, 2008

Support bolsters research in fight against blinding diseases

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John Penn, Ph.D.

Support bolsters research in fight against blinding diseases

Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) has awarded a grant of $110,000 to the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences to support research into the causes, treatment and prevention of blinding diseases.

The research will be directed by Paul Sternberg Jr., M.D., chair of the department and director of the Vanderbilt Eye Institute, and John Penn, Ph.D., vice chair and director of Research for the department.

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.

To date, support has totaled almost $1.6 million.

“Our department certainly wouldn't be where it is today if it wasn't for RPB support,” Penn said.

“It has been integral to our research growth in so many ways.

“Our relationship with RPB has been critical to our past achievements; clearly, it will be just as instrumental in our future success.”

The department uses the money for infrastructure supporting research into the eye diseases named top priorities by the National Institutes of Health.

“Paul Sternberg and I both feel strongly that clinical departments like ours are obligated to conduct translational research. That is, research that advances our understanding or treatment of the most prevalent eye diseases, the diseases that cause the most irreversible vision loss,” Penn said.

The department focuses specifically on research into the cause and treatment of diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.

“Our areas of research emphasis often address more than one of these important diseases, so there is a nice overlap between the respective research interests of our investigators,” Penn said.

“This allows us to share ideas, resources, equipment and findings, and it accelerates the discovery process.”

The key feature of the grant is that use of the funds is unrestricted.

“Using RPB funding, we can examine ideas that may be a little too risky for traditional federal funding mechanisms, and more often than not, our scientific advances are the result of risky endeavors,” Penn said.

“We are extremely fortunate to have a long-standing partnership with RPB, and we feel a strong obligation to repay their generosity with significant advances in the field of ophthalmic research.”