From Identifying Gene Mutations to Developing New Treatments for Inherited Retinal Diseases

November 14th, 2018 by FFB Canada

Clinician-Scientist Emerging Leader Award: Dr. Matthew Benson

Dr. Matthew Benson knows that improving our understanding of why blinding eye diseases happen will lay foundations for developing effective new treatments. He is particularly motivated to develop therapies for the many patients he cares for who currently have no treatment options.

Indeed, Dr. Benson is so inspired by the potential for research to fuel the creation of new treatments that he is taking time away from his busy clinical training schedule to focus intensively on research. His current project is focused on the disease mechanisms for a genetic condition that leads to significant vision and hearing loss; specifically, he is exploring how mutations in the PEX6 gene impact the structure and function of an important part of the cell called the “peroxisome.” Recent studies have shown that the drug chloroquine can improve peroxisome function, and Dr. Benson will test chloroquine as a potential sight-saving treatment for patients who have a PEX6 mutation.

At the FFB, we are very proud to announce that Dr. Benson’s project will be funded by our Clinician-Scientist Emerging Leader Program! This funding program is incredibly important to the FFB’s mission because clinician-scientists bring a unique perspective to research that draws on their interactions with patients. Moreover, we know that building a strong community of clinician-scientists will create a framework to support more innovative clinical trials in Canada!

Dr. Benson is grateful to have the opportunity to conduct research under the supervision of Dr. MacDonald, who conducted Canada’s first ocular gene therapy trial at the University of Alberta. “Dr. MacDonald’s research in ocular genetics provides a unique opportunity to incorporate basic science aspects of ophthalmology into a busy clinical and surgical practice,” explained Dr. Benson. “Dr. MacDonald’s devotion to improving patient outcomes solidified my decision to become a clinician-scientist.”

At a recent FFB event in Edmonton, Dr. MacDonald shared a story explaining how funding from the FFB to support research early in his career enabled him to envision a career that incorporated both cutting-edge research and patient care. His comments reiterate how funding from the FFB makes critically important vision research possible!

Thank you to BMO for providing the seed funding that enabled the FFB to launch the Clinician-Scientist Emerging Leader Program in 2016. Thanks to continued support from BMO and to new support from Bayer, we were able to expand the award in 2018!

Dr. Benson will be joined by his CSEL awardee colleagues: Dr. Brian Ballios (the 2017 CSEL recipient) and Dr. Jacob Rullo (2018 recipient). At the FFB, we know that supporting emerging leaders in ophthalmology will build the essential expertise in Canada that is required to drive the development of new sight-saving treatments!