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Foundation Fighting Blindness Announces $1.8 Million Grant to Leading Netherlands Institute, Expands International Research Portfolio

12/29/2011 8:24:48 AM

Columbia, MD (December 29, 2011)—The Foundation Fighting Blindness, a national nonprofit dedicated to advancing sight-saving research, announces a $1.8 million grant over the next five years to The Radboud University Nijmegen in The Netherlands. Recognized as one of the world’s foremost institutions for genetic, laboratory and clinical research for inherited retinal degenerative diseases, Nijmegen will serve as a Foundation Fighting Blindness Research Center. In that role, Nijmegen will conduct collaborative laboratory and clinical research efforts to facilitate the advancement of potential treatments and cures and related human studies. Nijmegen becomes the third Foundation Center Grant in Europe, joining Moorfields Eye Hospital in London and the Institut de la Vision in Paris.

“Nijmegen has emerged to become not only a leading retinal research center in Europe, but an international pioneer in retinal science, as well. They have been responsible for the discovery of 18 retinal-disease-causing genes, as well as determining why defects in cilia, tiny tube-like structures in photoreceptors, are a common link to a broad range of vision-robbing retinal diseases,” says Stephen Rose, Ph.D., chief research officer, Foundation Fighting Blindness. “Nijmegen has also established an outstanding clinical operation for launching human studies for treatments like gene therapy.”

Dr. Frans Cremers, the Nijmegen Center Grant coordinator, says that one of his team’s goals is to identify and characterize all people in The Netherlands who are affected by an inherited retinal disease. “The Center Grant funding will also strengthen our collaborative genetic research efforts across Europe, Canada, and the U.S., as well as our endeavor to facilitate genetic research for retinal diseases in Pakistan and Indonesia.”

Dr. Rose adds that finding disease-causing genes in European and Asian populations can provide a big boost to researchers and patients in the U.S., because so many Americans have these ancestries. “The U.S. is a genetic melting pot, so it is imperative that we cast a wide, international net when searching for new genes,” he says.

Nijmegen’s Center Grant will include support for:

- Identifying new retinal-disease genes — including those that cause conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration — through the use of next-generation genetic discovery technologies.

- Developing a better understanding of retinal ciliopathies — including conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa, Usher syndrome, and Bardet-Biedl syndrome — in which the transport of proteins critical to vision and photoreceptor health are compromised.

- Enhancing retinal imaging technologies to select and follow patients for future Leber congenital amaurosis (CEP290 mutations) and Stargardt disease gene therapy clinical trials.

Officially known as the Radboud University Nijmegen Research Center for Studying Retinal Degenerative Diseases, the new Foundation Fighting Blindness Center Grant is supporting the following investigators: Drs. Frans Cremers, Anneke den Hollander, Hannie Kremer, Ronald Roepman, and Thomas Theelen. Co-investigators are: Drs. Rob Collin, Carel Hoyng, Jeroen Klevering, and Erwin van Wijk.

About the Foundation Fighting Blindness

The Foundation Fighting Blindness is a national nonprofit driving blindness research that will lead to preventions, treatments and cures for retinitis pigmentosa, macular degeneration, Usher syndrome and the entire spectrum of retinal degenerative diseases that affect more than 10 million Americans. In its 40-year history, the Foundation has raised more than $425 million as the leading non-governmental funder of retinal research. With a network of 50 chapters, the Foundation also provides free disease information and low vision resources to affected individuals and their families. Most recently, a breakthrough Foundation-funded study using gene therapy restored significant vision in children and young adults who were previously blind, paving the way for using this method to treat a wide variety of retinal degenerative diseases, and proving a cure is in sight.

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