Cutting Edge Research Grants Announced by The American Macular Degeneration Foundation, Co-funded with Research to Prevent Blindness

RPB AMDF Catalyst Grant AwardeesThe American Macular Degeneration Foundation (AMDF), in partnership with Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB), has announced the recipients of the RPB/AMDF Catalyst Awards for Innovative Research Approaches for Age-Related Macular Degeneration, which provide seed money for high-risk/high-gain AMD research into both dry and wet forms of the disease. Each grantee will receive $300,000, payable across three years, pending a mid-point review.

Sabine Fuhrmann, PhD, Associate Professor, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee, will examine the potential of retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells to regenerate in mature mammalian eyes. RPE cells support the healthy functioning of photoreceptor cells, while their degeneration leads to progressive, chronic AMD. By identifying and using small molecule and other novel regulators, Dr. Fuhrmann’s lab hopes to stimulate a previously discovered, intrinsic, regenerative response.

Aparna Lakkaraju, PhD, Associate Professor, University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, will also be focused on the retinal pigment epithelium, studying RPE cell damage in early AMD using advanced microscopy to observe disease progression in living cells. While Dr. Lakkaraju’s goal is learning about the genetic mechanisms that initiate RPE decline, she will also evaluate therapies that can preserve the health of the RPE, using drugs that are either already approved for human use, or in clinical/preclinical development (an approach that can shorten the time to translate these findings to the clinic).

“AMDF is continuing to grow its vision research commitments,” said Chip Goehring, President, AMDF. “By supporting these accomplished researchers in pursuing potentially game-changing treatments for macular degeneration, we hope to accelerate the arrival of new, sight-saving breakthroughs. And, by combining our resources with the grant-making experience and expertise of Research to Prevent Blindness, we are sharply increasing our ability to advance the science.”

The Catalyst Awards support previously unfunded, innovative science conducted by highly qualified scientists, equipping them with flexible dollars that allow them to pursue new discoveries in the course of their investigations.

These 2019 RPB/AMDF Catalyst Awards are part of a larger collaboration, also supported by the International Retinal Research Foundation, that is funding a total of four grants.

“We are thrilled to welcome the American Macular Degeneration Foundation into this funding collaboration,” said Brian F. Hofland, PhD, President, RPB. “The number of applications for the Catalyst Awards was up this year and AMDF’s participation allows us to double our capacity to fund important AMD research. The potential for these innovative projects is significant.”

The co-funding of these RPB/AMDF Catalyst Awards for Innovative Research Approaches in AMD is part of a broader program expansion by AMDF which began with the inaugural AMDF Prevention Award in 2017 (to Johanna Seddon, MD, ScM, University of Massachusetts Medical School, for her pioneering AMD epidemiological and genetic research); the first presentation in 2017 of the AMDF Breakthrough Award (to Neena Haider, PhD, Department of Ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School, for research focused on disease pathway interventions); and the AMDF Prevention Award in 2018 (to Kip Connor, PhD, Department of Ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School, for research focused on the interaction between the body’s innate defense systems, nutrition, environmental factors, genetic profile and modifiable lifestyle choices). In 2019, AMDF sponsored two Travel Grants for young researchers to attend the ARVO international vision research annual meeting, and is co-sponsoring a series of grants with Fight for Sight.


Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) is the leading nonprofit organization supporting eye research directed at the prevention, treatment, or eradication of all diseases that damage and destroy sight. As part of this purview, RPB also supports efforts to grow and sustain a robust and diverse vision research community. Since it was founded in 1960 by Dr. Jules Stein, RPB has awarded more than $368 million in research grants to the most talented vision scientists at the nation’s leading medical schools. As a result, RPB has been associated with nearly every major breakthrough in the understanding and treatment of vision loss in the past 50 years. Learn more at www.rpbusa.org.

AMDF In the Trenches: Stimulating Research Through New Grants and Partnerships

Through a growing portfolio of research grants and creative partnerships with other eye research funders, the American Macular Degeneration Foundation (AMDF) is finding ways to efficiently leverage its resources and accelerate the development of promising approaches to improve the lives of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) patients.

At AMDF, we have been hearing from researchers that the scientific community’s knowledge base about AMD has grown significantly, that technology is creating the possibilities for new assessment and drug delivery tools, and that the time is now to make a push and convert decades of discoveries into actual treatments.

As part of that push, the retooling of the AMDF Grants Program started in 2017 with the funding of Harvard’s Neena Haider, PhD, to pursue a “master switch” AMD gene therapy.  This year, the Foundation granted its first AMDF Prevention Award to fellow Harvard investigator Kip Connor, PhD, in the amount of $150,000. The award is for Dr. Connor’s proposed study, “Aging and Immunity in Age-Related Macular Degeneration,” which seeks to unravel the connections between some of the body’s immune cells (called microglia), the body’s inflammatory response, and nutrition-derived treatments.

We are also developing partnerships in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  We laid the groundwork for some of these during conversations that began at gatherings of eye researchers and eye research-funding groups last year and earlier this year. With Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB), AMDF is funding two researchers who, starting in January 2019, will each receive an AMDF/RPB Catalyst Award for Innovative Research Approaches for Age-Related Macular Degeneration (“Catalyst Award”) at a rate of $300,000 across three years.  

RPB is the preeminent, nonprofit funder of research directed at the prevention, treatment or eradication of all diseases that threaten vision. With this partnership, we are creating an incentive for the world’s leading AMD scientists.  By aligning our resources with RPB, AMDF is more than doubling our capacity to foster life-changing breakthroughs.

“RPB’s grant-making expertise and broad awareness among the nation’s top vision researchers, when aligned with AMDF’s passionate commitment to those affected by AMD, creates the potential to generate remarkable discoveries,” adds Brian Hofland, PhD, President, RPB. “We are extremely pleased to be joining forces with AMDF in supporting this kind of high risk/high gain research.”  

The proposed studies submitted for these Catalyst Awards cannot have been previously funded by any other source, ensuring that fresh ideas will come to light. Some of them may be transformative.

At the same time, we are also extending our partnership with Fight for Sight, a funder of young vision researchers.  The new grants, which will be announced at next year’s Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) annual meeting, will provide resources for postdoctoral scholars to conduct investigations and travel to the international ARVO meeting to share concepts with potential mentors.  This is a way to nurture the maturation of emerging scientists and maintain forward momentum through continuity.

“Ideas make a difference,” says Joan Miller, MD, Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at Harvard, and Chief of Ophthalmology at Mass Eye and Ear and MGH. “They come from individual brains, and it is a huge enterprise to have these ideas and people come together toward solutions. Funding for this is critical, especially the early funding that comes from philanthropy and foundations to foster those ideas through academic research before they are more fully developed with federal funding and eventually tested and brought into production with the help of venture capital and pharmaceutical companies.”

This is precisely why AMDF recently provided financing for the 5th Biennial International Symposium on AMD, held at Harvard in October. The two-day event brought together more than 270 AMD researchers in a series of deep-dive, panel discussions to promote potential collaborations. Some of the world’s most established AMD scientists shared their knowledge with younger investigators and challenged them to consider additional areas of inquiry.  AMDF had the opportunity to conduct interviews with AMD thought leaders, which will soon appear on the AMDF web site.

AMD is a complex disease, and its prevalence is approaching epidemic proportions.  Already, there are 10,000 U.S. baby boomers turning 72 every single day and the risk of having AMD has reached 30 percent between the ages of 65 and 75. As a society, we have to acknowledge that this is a problem.  At AMDF, we are taking a multi-faceted approach toward solving it.