As reported by Heather Chronis in the Fall 2015 Sight & Sound newsletter of the Eye and Ear Foundation of Pittsburgh, the Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh, under the direction of McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Robert Hendricks, PhD, Joseph F. Novak Professor and Vice-Chair for Research in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, has been the recipient of multiple restricted and unrestricted grants from the Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB). Founded in 1960 by Dr. Jules Stein, RPB is a national leader in the effort to fund, coordinate, and promote vision research in the United States. From its infancy to today, RPB has advocated at all levels for vision research. RPB restricted and unrestricted grants have helped to launch the careers of countless vision scientists.
Indeed, many leading vision scientists around the world credit the RPB with their early scientific development. The unrestricted grants to the University of Pittsburgh have supported pilot projects including recent projects by McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty members James Funderburgh, PhD, Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh and the Associate Director of the Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration, and Yiqin Du, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Departments of Ophthalmology and Developmental Biology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the Fox Center, to study the use of corneal stromal stem cells to treat corneal scarring, by Dr. Du to study the use of trabecular meshwork stem cells to treat glaucoma, by McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Shiva Swamynathan, PhD, Associate Professor with the Department of Ophthalmology in the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, to study the anti-inflammatory role of SLURP-1, and by McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Ian Sigal, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Laboratory of Ocular Biomechanics in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, to study ocular biomechanics in glaucoma. All of these studies are now funded by National Institute of Health (NIH) R01 grants. Work by McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty members Kevin Chan, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Departments of Ophthalmology and Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, and Ian Conner, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology and Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, investigating the structural, metabolic, and functional relationships between the eye and the brain in glaucoma was also funded by an RPB unrestricted grant and currently has an NIH R01 application pending. In addition to funding pilot projects, RPB unrestricted grants have also helped with physical improvements to the research labs. One of the most valuable uses of the RPB funding is the purchase of lab equipment for new faculty. Additionally, service contracts on core equipment have been funded, which has helped to preserve equipment obtained through other grants.
The research faculty of the University of Pittsburgh has also received many individual grants from RPB. Dr. Funderburgh received a Stein Professorship, a $625,000 award for a researcher who is moving from a basic science department to an ophthalmology department. This grant helped Dr. Funderburgh move his laboratory from University of Kansas to the University of Pittsburgh. Xiangyun Wei, PhD, Robert Shanks, PhD, and McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Matthew Smith, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Ophthalmology, University of Pittsburgh, have all received Career Development Awards, which include a $200-250,000 award to promote their early vision research career development. Drs. Hendricks and Michael Gorin were awarded the Senior Scientific Investigator Award designed to support high risk/high reward projects of senior investigators, Sherrie Divito, MD, Jared Knickelbein, MD, and Daniel Roh, MD, PhD, all won the RPB Medical Student Award, Dr. Wei won the Wasserman Award, while George Stetten, MD, PhD, and McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine faculty member Steven Little, PhD, Chairman of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, University of Pittsburgh, each won the Innovative Ophthalmic Research Award. Over the last 20 years, the total amount of RPB individual grants to the Ophthalmology Department have totaled $1,690,000, providing the researchers with the opportunity to continue their study of unique and targeted approaches to prevent vision loss. RPB support to the Ophthalmology Department has increased each year, which has allowed the institution to grow in stature in the ophthalmology research arena since Dr. Hendricks’ arrival in 1997. From this groundbreaking work, has come NIH grants which are considered the most prestigious in the United States and are considered a predictor of great future successes. The funding by the RPB has provided the groundwork for international success for the Ophthalmology Department at the University of Pittsburgh.
Illustration: The Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration.