CLARKSBURG, Md., July 25, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- The American Health Assistance Foundation (AHAF, http://www.ahaf.org), a nonprofit organization that funds breakthrough research on age-related vision diseases, announced today that it has awarded 21 new grants totaling $2.1 million to scientists worldwide who are studying glaucoma and macular degeneration. The two conditions are the leading causes of irreversible blindness in the world.
"AHAF is known for pinpointing some of the world's most promising vision research and funding early-stage, innovative projects," said Stacy Pagos Haller, AHAF's president and CEO. "To date, AHAF has awarded more than $120 million to advance research, including more than $33.6 million in grants addressing glaucoma and macular degeneration," she noted.
Guy Eakin, Ph.D., AHAF's vice president for scientific affairs, added: "This year's grant recipients are at the forefront of scientific knowledge about these two diseases. Many have developed unique tools and procedures to examine, cell by cell and gene by gene, the causes of and contributors to vision loss."
National Glaucoma Research Grants
Glaucoma refers to a group of eye disorders often having few or no symptoms in the early stages but eventually causing harm to the optic nerve, which carries information from the eye to the brain. Increasingly, researchers are examining this eye-brain connection. Subjects of the 11 glaucoma grants include:
An Increased Risk of Glaucoma with Alzheimer's Disease?
Peter P. De Deyn, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Antwerp, Belgium, is examining how Alzheimer's patients may be at increased risk of developing glaucoma. De Deyn says people with Alzheimer's disease may have reduced pressure in their cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which bathes the brain, eyes, and spinal cord. De Deyn is conducting a human clinical trial, as well as animal studies.
Neuroprotection: Preventing the Death of Cells
Scientists are investigating different ways to promote the survival of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), the optic nerve cells normally damaged in glaucoma.
Johns Hopkins University (JHU) scientist Derek Welsbie, M.D., Ph.D., will work to understand which genes send signals that trigger the death of RGCs. Using automated microscopes and robots, he will turn off tens of thousands of genes, one by one, to see what makes the cells healthier. Zhiyong Yang, M.D., Ph.D., of JHU, will investigate whether a novel target protein can promote RGC survival. Shannath Merbs, M.D., Ph.D., also of JHU, will study DNA changes caused in part by environmental factors and whether manipulation of that process can improve RGC survival.
At Duke University, Paloma B. Liton, Ph.D., will examine why certain cells appear to effectively "eat themselves" under stress conditions and whether this self-eating process protects the optic nerve against chronic high eye pressure.
Developing Drug "Chaperones" to Stabilize Mutated Genes
Two scientists in Florida -- Chris Lee, Ph.D., of the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville and Chad Dickey, Ph.D., of the University of South Florida -- are testing whether certain chemical compounds could be developed to serve as "chaperones." These proteins would bind to and potentially correct the structure of mutated proteins that cause open angle glaucoma.
Macular Degeneration Research Grants
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) involves deterioration of the macula, the central area of the retina containing light-sensitive cells. AMD impairs a person's ability to see straight ahead. Currently, there are limited treatments for wet AMD and no treatment to prevent vision loss for advanced dry AMD.
Highlights of the 10 AMD grants include:
Testing New Treatments for Dry AMD
Kristen Farjo, Ph.D., of the University of Oklahoma, is working to develop a new treatment for dry AMD using techniques to reduce the formation of toxic vitamin A derivatives in the retina. Farjo and colleagues have identified several non-chemical inhibitors of vitamin A.
Haoyu Mao, Ph.D., of the University of Florida, Gainesville, is studying the delivery of three different drugs for their potential in treating AMD. One compound has already been through Phase III clinical trials for another disease involving nerve cells, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Measuring Environmental Influences on Risks for AMD
Milam Brantley, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., of Vanderbilt University, is studying the environmental risks for AMD. Using a technique called metabolomics, Brantley's team measures the levels of thousands of metabolic markers in the blood to identify environmental influences on AMD risk factors.
For descriptions of all 21 AHAF-funded vision grants, visit http://www.ahaf.org/2012VisionAwards.
About the American Health Assistance Foundation
The American Health Assistance Foundation is a nonprofit organization funding research worldwide under its three program areas: Alzheimer's Disease Research, Macular Degeneration Research, and National Glaucoma Research.
Alice L. Kirkman, AHAF Communications
Phone: (301) 556-9349; Email: email@example.com
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SOURCE American Health Assistance Foundation