The Canadian scientist Dr. Andras Nagy, Senior Investigator at Mount Sinai’s Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, is announced today as the inaugural recipient of the Cedric Ritchie Fund to Cure Blindness: a new $1.5 million initiative made possible by the Foundation Fighting Blindness, Canada’s largest charitable funder of vision research.
The Foundation Fighting Blindness is proud to launch the Cedric Ritchie Fund to Cure Blindness on World Sight Day – a day that raises awareness about the 253 million people around the world who are living with a severe vision impairment or blindness.
Dr. Nagy has been studying the intricacies of stem cells for thirty years and is world-renowned for discovering a method to create stem cells from other cells in the body, a breakthrough in regenerative medicine. His novel approach to treating wet-AMD, the most severe form of the disease, involves a combination of gene therapy and stem cell therapy. He and his team are now able to genetically program stem cells to deliver sight-saving proteins within the eye on their own, proteins that would normally have to be manually injected into the patient’s eye on a regular basis.
The $1.5 million research initiative is the result of an individual commitment from Barbara Ritchie, whose late husband, Cedric Ritchie, lived his final years without sight due to complications from AMD and glaucoma. Mr. Ritchie was a renowned entrepreneur and Canadian banker who rose from teller, then president and CEO, and finally to chairman of the Bank of Nova Scotia.
Mr. Ritchie’s blindness occurred suddenly—he woke up one day and couldn’t see—and the implications for his everyday life were extreme. He never let blindness get in the way of his work, insisting on being at the office and continuing in his role, but he struggled to maintain the regular patterns of his life. Many who experience blindness from wet-AMD struggle in similar ways: the disease is associated with aging (though certain forms can affect younger people as well), and its onset comes at a time when one’s senses are no longer able to adapt as nimbly.
Mrs. Ritchie cared for her husband as he struggled to navigate a life without vision, and her experience left her with a profound sense of the burden that blindness entails for not only those who live with it, but for loved ones and caregivers as well. Her commitment to ending blindness through the Cedric Ritchie Fund to Cure Blindness emerges directly from these experiences.
At the same time, Mrs. Ritchie recognizes the enormous constraints that are placed on Canadian scientists, who must not only perform science but manage labs, schedules, and employees, all while securing enough funding to sustain the entire enterprise. She also believes in the enormous potential of Dr. Nagy’s science, which is a novel combination of two of the most promising approaches in vision science, gene therapy and stem cell therapy, an intersection made possible by Dr. Nagy’s decades of foundational scientific investigation, which he’ll leverage to bring the work into the clinical trial phase.
Clinical trials test the safety and efficacy of experimental approaches and are an essential step in the development of potential treatments; unfortunately, many scientists struggle to get that far—some even refer to the gap between the lab and clinical trials as “the valley of death.” Quite often, it’s where excellent but poorly funded science goes to die. Considering what’s at stake in Dr. Nagy’s work, Mrs. Ritchie refused to let that happen.
Dr. Nagy is now in a position to go to clinical trials in five years, a very short period within the often-plodding timeframes of scientific discovery. This would of course be impossible without Mrs. Ritchie’s generosity, which is fueled by her memory of Mr. Ritchie and her vision for a world without blindness. “Cedric never let vision loss get in his way,” she told the Foundation Fighting Blindness, “and insisted on getting work done, regardless of the difficulty. I know that if he were here today, he’d want a similar principle applied to Canada’s vision science. He’d want the best science to be supported, and he’d want it maximized to impact as many people as possible.”