Catalyst for a Cure

Catalyst for a Cure Biomarkers Team
Catalyst for a Cure Biomarkers Team

Catalyst for a Cure (CFC) is a unique approach to research developed by Glaucoma Research Foundation to accelerate the pace of discovery toward a cure for glaucoma.

It involves bringing together scientists from different backgrounds to work collaboratively to understand glaucoma and find ways to improve treatment and ultimately cure this blinding disease.

Research Collaboration

Typically, individual scientists work on separate projects and share the advances they make only at conferences and in publications. Often, scientists in the same field are in competition for grant money to fund their work. Instead of competing with each other, the Catalyst for a Cure scientists are engaged in a research collaboration that builds on their collective strengths. By design, their collaborative efforts enable them to move more quickly toward a cure.

In 2012, the Glaucoma Research Foundation recruited four scientists from prestigious academic centers across the country chosen for their particular expertise in biomedical imaging, physics, retinal cell biology, neurobiology, and clinical ophthalmology.

Their goal is to develop new, specific and sensitive biomarkers to diagnose and manage glaucoma more effectively. This knowledge could potentially help predict glaucoma in patients who do not yet show symptoms of vision loss as well as help doctors choose the best course of therapy for each patient.

Research Progress

In the early stages of the initiative, the team’s strategy has been to cast a wide net, investigating diverse candidate biomarkers, and during the first year the team has shown considerable progress.

Retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), the cells that degenerate and are responsible for vision loss in glaucoma, have been divided into many subtypes and certain subtypes may get injured or die first in glaucoma. The CFC researchers completed a detailed and systematic analysis of RGC subtypes, and preliminary results show that one subtype changes its shape much earlier in the disease. They are developing techniques to identify whether these and other potential candidate biomarkers may signal early changes that lead to vision loss in glaucoma.

Why Glaucoma Biomarkers?

Identifying molecular biomarkers for glaucoma promises many possible benefits. A molecular biomarker might have predictive use that could help guide more specific therapy in some glaucoma patients.

For example, it might help a glaucoma specialist know when to intervene earlier. In addition, a good biomarker could be used to demonstrate efficacy of drug activity, potentially accelerating federal approval for glaucoma drugs, particularly those that protect the retina and optic nerve.

A Decade of Innovation

The original team of Catalyst for a Cure investigators — David Calkins, PhD (Vanderbilt Eye Institute), Philip Horner, PhD (University of Washington), Nicholas Marsh-Armstrong, PhD (Johns Hopkins), and Monica Vetter, PhD (University of Utah) — working collaboratively since 2002, made a significant impact on the field of glaucoma research. New ideas and research findings from the Catalyst for a Cure have fundamentally changed how the scientific and medical communities view vision loss in glaucoma.

The CFC researchers have obtained a detailed understanding of this complex disease, and have revealed novel approaches for slowing disease progression. Importantly, they characterized glaucoma as a progressive, neurodegenerative disease, and provided significant evidence that targeting early events has the greatest therapeutic potential. They showed that RGCs undergo functional decline and genetic deprogramming before they are permanently lost, and they defined a window of “vulnerability” for RGCs during which there is the potential for rescue.

Collaborative Research to Find a Cure

At Glaucoma Research Foundation, we have made a serious long-term commitment to collaborative research. Projects are focused on clear goals and useful results. In 2014, we are investing more than one million dollars in research grants to better understand this complex disease and speed the pace of finding a cure for glaucoma. We believe the innovative design of the Catalyst for a Cure and the talented scientists it has brought together are our best hope for finding a cure for this devastating disease.

The Catalyst for a Cure Principal Investigators

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Alfredo Dubra, PhD
Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology and Biophysics
Department of Ophthalmology, The Eye Institute
Medical College of Wisconsin
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The main goal of the Dubra lab is to develop non-invasive optical imaging methods for early detection and monitoring of eye disease. The lab pursues a multidisciplinary approach, with a major focus on translating techniques and analytical tools from physics, astronomy and mathematics into robust quantitative diagnostic tools.

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Jeffrey L. Goldberg, MD, PhD
Professor of Ophthalmology and Director of Research,
Shiley Eye Center, University of California San Diego
San Diego, California

Dr. Goldberg's research is directed at neuroprotection and regeneration of retinal ganglion cells and other retinal neurons. His laboratory is developing novel stem cell and nanotherapeutics approaches for ocular repair, studying retinal ganglion cell development, survival and axon regeneration in glaucoma, and investigating the cellular basis for the developmental loss of axon growth ability.

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Andrew Huberman, PhD
Assistant Professor of Neurosciences, Biology and Ophthalmology
University of California San Diego
San Diego, California

The purpose of the Huberman laboratory is to understand how the retinal and brain circuits that underlie vision wire up during development and to develop new strategies to monitor, prevent, and treat retinal ganglion cell loss in glaucoma.

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Vivek Srinivasan, PhD
Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering
University of California, Davis
Department of Biomedical Engineering
Davis, California

The Srinivasan Biophotonics Laboratory develops novel optical imaging techniques and diagnostics with applications spanning from basic to clinical research. In particular, the lab is interested in neuronal control of hemodynamics and metabolism both in health and disease in the central nervous system, including the retina and brain. Their highly interdisciplinary approach combines cutting edge imaging technologies with collaborations ranging from neurobiology to neurology and ophthalmology to test fundamental hypotheses and explore the diagnostic implications.

Last reviewed on August 28, 2014

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