Current Research: 2018 Vision Loss & Eye Disease Studies

Every year, donors of the Foundation Fighting Blindness (FFB) fund millions of dollars of research taking place in hospitals and universities across Canada. This research is the backbone of our community and our primary tool for identifying the causes, treatments and, ultimately, cures for retinal eye diseases.

The FFB, along with it’s generous supporters, are currently funding 14 new and ongoing studies, as described below. They are categorized by colour to illustrate the three major focuses of our research:

Understand - To comprehend the causes and effects of eye diseases
Preserve - To retain and protect vision for people living with retinal diseases
Restore - To repair retinal diseases and cure these conditions outright

Defining the connections and survival mechanisms of retinal interneurons (Dr. Picketts)

Scientific Title: Defining the connections and survival mechanisms of retinal interneurons Lead Investigator: Dr. David Picketts Institution: Ottawa Hospital Research Institute Granted: $240,000 over 3 years, July 2016 – June 2019 Photo: Dr. David Picketts Dr. Picketts aims to UNDERSTAND vision loss by studying how inner retinal neurons mature, what factors are important for their survival and how they integrate and modulate photoreceptor signals. This fundamental knowledge will increase the success of emerging therapies to treat retinal degeneration.

Whole genome sequencing of patients with early onset retinal dystrophies (Dr. Héon)

Scientific Title: Whole genome sequencing of patients with early onset retinal dystrophies Lead Investigator: Dr. Elise Héon Institution: The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) Granted: $240,000 over 3 years, July 2016 – June 2019 Photo: Dr. Elise Heon At SickKids, Dr. Héon and her team are only able to identify mutations in approximately half of the people who are diagnosed with a retinal degenerative disease. In this project, Dr. Héon will use the latest sequencing technology and a targeted strategy to identify the most number of mutations possible and test why these mutations lead to vision loss. The team aims to UNDERSTAND why these mutations lead to retinal degeneration with the goal of developing new treatment strategies.

Temporal identity factors: opening new avenues for cell therapy in retinal degeneration (Dr. Cayouette)

Scientific Title: Temporal identity factors: opening new avenues for cell therapy in retinal degeneration Lead Investigator: Dr. Michel Cayouette Institution: Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal Granted: $125,000 from FFB / $990,000 from Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Duration: July 2016 – July 2021 Photo: Dr. Michel Cayouette working in his lab               Read more about this project.  

Canada's first clinical trial of a gene therapy for a blinding eye disease (Dr. MacDonald)

Scientific Title: Choroideremia: Expanding our understanding, exploring treatments Lead Investigator: Dr. Ian MacDonald, University of Alberta (Principal Investigator) Collaborators: Dr. Tania M Bubela, University of Alberta Dr. Elena Posse de Chaves, University of Alberta Dr. Yves Sauve, University of Alberta Institution: University of Alberta Granted: $1.35 million over 5 years, Jan 2012 – Dec 2018 Photo: Dr. Ian MacDonald Dr. MacDonald and his colleagues will undertake the first human clinical trial of a treatment for choroideremia in Canada, as well as continuing their basic science investigations of the disease’s underlying causes. Additional Collaborators: Matt Tennant, University of Alberta; Robert MacLaren, Oxford, UK; Miguel Seabra, Imperial College, London, and Elise Heon, Sick Children’s Hospital, Toronto. Partnership: A partnership project funded by the Foundation Fighting Blindness; the Institute of Genetics as well as the Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addictions, Canadian Institutes of Health Research; and The Choroideremia Research Foundation Canada Patient Registry: Project uses the Foundation Fighting Blindness Patient Registry See the trial website for more details http://www.chmgenetherapy.ca/ Read more stories about Dr. MacDonald.

Development of a drug that prevents photoreceptor death and vision loss (Dr. Monnier)

Scientific Title: Development of a Drug that Prevents Photoreceptor Death and Vision Loss Lead Investigator: Dr. Philippe Monnier Institution: Krembil Discovery centre, University Health Network, Toronto Granted: $240,000 over 3 years, July 2016 – June 2019 Photo: Dr. Monnier Dr. Philippe Monnier demonstrated that he could PRESERVE vision in two different laboratory models of retinitis pigmentosa (RP) by manipulating neogenin. Dr. Monnier is now focused on gathering essential pre-clinical data to enable a clinical trial testing a neogenin-based treatment for people living with RP. Read more stories about Dr. Monnier.

Why does The drug valproic acid (VPA) prevent some forms of blindness and make others worse? (Dr. Moritz)

Scientific Title: Why does The drug valproic acid (VPA) prevent some forms of blindness and make others worse? Lead Investigator: Dr. Orson Moritz Institution: University of British Columbia Granted: $240,000 over 3 years, July 2016 – June 2019 Photo: Dr. Moritz Dr. Moritz has shown that the drug valproic acid (VPA) prevents blindness in some genetic forms of RP but worsens it in other forms. In this study, he aims to PRESERVE vision by identifying the exact enzymes that are involved in these effects to learn how they are impacting vision loss with the goal of discovering additional drugs that could be used to prevent blindness. Read more stories about Dr. Moritz.

Impact of obesity on age-related macular degeneration (Dr. Sapieha)

Scientific Title: Impact of Obesity on Age-related Macular Degeneration Lead Investigator: Dr. Przemyslaw (Mike) Sapieha Institution: Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont Granted: $240,000 over 3 years, July 2016 – June 2019 Photo: Dr. Sapieha Dr. Sapieha is exploring how the microbes of our body (the microbiome) affect obesity, the body’s immune response and ultimately the progression of AMD. By studying new wet-AMD pathways, he aims to identify new therapeutic targets for the disease that can help to PRESERVE sight. Read more stories about Dr. Sapieha.

Combining stem cells and gene therapy to create a new treatment for age-related macular degeneration (Dr. Nagy)

Scientific Title: Combined Cell and Gene Therapy Towards the Treatment of Age-related Macular Degeneration Lead Investigator: Dr. Andras Nagy Institution: Lunenfeld Tanenbaum Research Institute, Mount Sinai Hospital Granted: $225,000 over 3 years, July 2015 – June 2018 Photo: Dr. Andras Nagy Dr. Nagy aims to RESTORE SIGHT by developing a new therapy that combines both stem cells and gene therapy to offer patients with wet age-related macular degeneration a ‘one shot’ permanent treatment. Support provided by a Memorial Gift made in Honour of Cedric Ritchie. Read more stories about Dr. Nagy.

Bioengineered Cell Delivery Systems for Stem Cell Transplantation (Dr. Ballios)

Scientific Title: Bioengineered cell delivery systems for the transplantation of stem cell progeny for retinal regeneration Lead Investigator: Dr. Brian Ballios Institution: University of Toronto Granted: $80,000 over 2 years, March 2017 – March 2019 Dr. Brian Ballios             Dr. Ballios will use stem cells to generate the light-sensitive cells (photoreceptors) lost in many different blinding eye diseases, and transplant those cells directly into the retina. He will explore more efficient ways of making photoreceptors from stem cells and develop new approaches to helping those transplanted cells survive and make connections in the damaged eye. Read more