Research to Prevent Blindness Awards

This year, seven USCF scientists received Research to Prevent Blindness awards for important initiatives, continuing the UCSF track record of recognition for excellence. The Department of Ophthalmology is grateful for its share of these competitive awards over the years – $7.3 million since 1998.

Research to Prevent Blindness provides major research funding, fueling disease-oriented studies by hundreds of talented U.S. vision scientists. Here are summaries of three current UCSF projects.

Saidas Nair, PhD – Genetics

Regenerating Damaged Retinas: Müller cells are retinal cells that provide both mechanical and functional support to the retinal neurons. In mammals, few of these cells can respond to cues that support their regenerative potential – and only under very specific injury conditions. Dr. Nair recently identified a subpopulation of Müller cells in the mouse retina that are likely primed to respond to regenerative signals. His research explores precisely how this subset differs from other Müller cells and how it responds to regenerative signals. The study holds significant promise for restoring vision by renewing retinal cells damaged by injury or disease.

Jacque Duncan, MD – Inherited Retinal Disease

Early Intervention for Retinitis Pigmentosa: Retinitis pigmentosa causes severe vision impairment from degeneration of the photoreceptor cells. Dr. Duncan (on left in photo with Jia Qin, PhD) uses laser ophthalmoscopy to probe photoreceptor structure and function in eyes with this inherited condition. By studying photoreceptors at the earliest stages of disease, her research will develop sensitive, objective measures of retinitis pigmentosa patients’ photoreceptor structure and function. Her aim is to accelerate development and assessment of treatments for the disease. The research will help her plan early interventions, when the eye is most responsive to treatment.

Felice Dunn, PhD – Neuroscience

Preventing Retinal Cell Death: Dr. Dunn uses two-photon microscopy, which allows imaging of living tissue up to one millimeter in depth, to examine the retina’s immediate reaction to photoreceptor damage in progressive eye diseases that cause deterioration of these vital cells and frequently lead to blindness. Dr. Dunn’s team seeks to determine the sequence, time course, and mechanisms of events that lead to damage to postsynaptic retinal neurons once the photoreceptors begin to die. The research is aimed at preventing or slowing retinal cell death and improving outcomes for stem cell therapies for retinal diseases.