Schepens Eye Research Institute receives 'Roadmap' grant to develop center for curing eye diseases

September 30, 2004

Boston, Mass - The Schepens Eye Research Institute has been awarded a grant from the National Institutes of Health to form teams of basic and clinical researchers from many disciplines to find cures for blinding eye diseases such as macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. The Institute competed with hundreds of organizations for the award. It is the only eye research institute to receive this type of award. The grant is part of a larger initiative known as the "NIH Roadmap," which seeks to find new ways to solve problems that have not yielded to traditional research. NIH is announcing the recipients of these special awards today in Bethesda.

"This is an exciting opportunity to bring enormous energy and new brain power to solve some of the most complex puzzles in eye research," says Darlene Dartt, PhD, the Director of Scientific Affairs at Schepens who is heading up the project. The Institute plans to combine forces with Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Harvard Medical School and other Harvard teaching hospitals by enlisting top investigators exploring diseases as diverse as Alzheimer's, rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease to be part of a "think tank" to cure blindness.

As the population ages, the need for new treatments for vision-robbing diseases is becoming critical. Age-related macular degeneration affects more than 1.75 million individuals in the United States. This number is expected to increase to almost 3 million by 2020.Each year 1.3 million Americans over age 20 are diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy. The financial impact and effect on quality of life for people diagnosed with one of these disorders is devastating, says Dartt.

Eye diseases share many of the same underlying mechanisms at work in diseases in other parts of the body, like the heart and the brain. "While experts from these areas often collaborate informally on vision disease, ophthalmology has remained somewhat specialized and in some ways isolated from other disciplines. This is really the first federal program to formalize collaboration," says Dartt. The three-year, nearly $2,200,000 "Planning Grant for Research on Blinding Eye Diseases" will fund the planning and piloting phase of what will ultimately be an interdisciplinary research center.

Over the course of the three years, the Institute will hold a series of large and small symposia and workshops to develop new hypotheses on the causes of blinding eye diseases, which will touch on such known processes as blood vessel growth, inflammation, poor wound healing, and infections. In the second year pilot projects will test the hypotheses, and in the third year results will be evaluated. (See detailed abstract on Schepens website at http://www.theschepens.org/nih_roadmap.htm)

In addition to solving some of the major biomedical dilemmas involved in eye research, Schepens and NIH hope that the work of these research teams will in turn help find new treatments for incurable diseases in other organs of the human body.

According to Michael Gilmore, PhD, Ankeny Director of Research and Chief Executive Officer of The Schepens Eye Research Institute: "This award demonstrates that NIH recognizes eye disease as one of the most important problems facing the rapidly aging population. The selection of The Schepens Eye Research Institute as the location for that program reflects its national leadership in the search for new cures for blindness."

"With these new Exploratory Centers, we hope to remove roadblocks to collaboration so that a true meeting of minds can take place that will broaden the scope of investigation, yield fresh and possibly unexpected insights, and create solutions to biomedical problems that have not been solved using traditional, disciplinary approaches," said NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.

"By providing this sustained and systematic support to interdisciplinary research through these new Exploratory Centers, we hope scientists can make progress on some of the more complex biomedical issues we face," said Lawrence Tabak, DDS., PhD, Director, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research and Co-chair, NIH Roadmap Interdisciplinary Research Teams of the Future Working Group. "Integrating different disciplines in entirely new ways holds the promise of opening up currently unimagined avenues of scientific inquiry and, in the process, forming whole new disciplines."

In addition to Dartt, and Gilmore, Institute experts involved in the project are Patricia D'Amore, PhD, Co-Investigator and Associate Director of Research, and Reza Dana, M.D., M.P.H., Co-Investigator and Senior Scientist, and Ashley E. Dunning, MA, Administrative Coordinator and Executive Assistant to the Chief Executive Officer.

The P20 grant initiative is led by the National Center for Research Resources at NIH and is part of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research. The NIH Roadmap is a series of far-reaching initiatives designed to transform the nation's medical research capabilities and speed the movement of research discoveries from the bench to the bedside. It provides a framework of the priorities the NIH must address in order to optimize its entire research portfolio and lays out a vision for a more efficient and productive system of medical research. For more information about the NIH Roadmap, please visit the Web site at: http://www.nihroadmap.nih.gov.
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The Schepens Eye Research Institute is an affiliate of Harvard Medical School and the largest independent eye research institute in the world. For additional information about the Institute go to http://www.theschepens.org. For additional information about the Schepens' P20 grant, go to http://www.theschepens.org/nih_roadmap.htm.

Schepens Eye Research Institute

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