SAN FRANCISCO — July 15, 2022 — Glaucoma Research Foundation, a national non-profit organization dedicated to finding a cure for glaucoma, today launched the fourth of its flagship Catalyst for a Cure collaborative research initiatives.
Called the Melza M. and Frank Theodore Barr Catalyst for a Cure to Prevent and Cure Neurodegeneration, the new endeavor will investigate common characteristics of diseases that occur when key cells in the central nervous system — eye, brain, spinal cord — deteriorate and die, causing a loss of function. Neurodegenerative conditions include glaucoma, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
“Neurodegeneration represents a promising but perplexing frontier in human health,” says Thomas Brunner, President and CEO of San Francisco-based Glaucoma Research Foundation. “Currently no therapies exist that can prevent or halt neurodegeneration or regrow healthy neurons. Through this research initiative, we hope to contribute new insights that could lead to innovative treatments and cures for glaucoma as well as other neurodegenerative conditions.”
The new initiative is unique in scope for Glaucoma Research Foundation and for scientific research in general, Brunner says. “Top researchers rarely cross from one disease to another,” he says. “In the Neurodegeneration Initiative, we have a team of experts, each with unique talents and perspectives, who will partner across disciplines and diseases to discover insights into all neurodegenerative illnesses.”
The Neurodegeneration Initiative was launched through a transformative $2.4 million gift to Glaucoma Research Foundation from the Melza M. and Frank Theodore Barr Foundation. Philanthropist and former Glaucoma Research Foundation Board member Frank Theodore (Ted) Barr and his wife Melza have supported the Foundation for 40 years and were significant investors in the inaugural Catalyst for a Cure consortium.
“We had been thinking about the challenge of neurodegeneration ever since the first Catalyst for a Cure identified it as a factor in glaucoma. In recent years, investigators around the world have been suggesting connections among glaucoma, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other neurodegenerative conditions. We thought it was time to prove it — to understand neurodegeneration in a fundamental way and develop solutions based on that knowledge. And we have great confidence in the Catalyst for a Cure approach,” says Mr. Barr.
To carry out the Neurodegeneration Initiative, Glaucoma Research Foundation has selected four talented investigators, from prestigious institutions and diverse disciplines, who will collaborate for an initial period of three years. A team of scientific advisors will coach the group and assess progress. The four consortium members are:
Sandro Da Mesquita, PhD
Assistant Professor, Department of Neuroscience
Meningeal Lymphatics and Neurological Disorders Lab
Dr. Da Mesquita’s unique expertise is in the field of brain vascular biology which has implications for Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Milica Margeta, MD, PhD
Physician and Surgeon, Massachusetts Eye and Ear
Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology
Harvard Medical School
Dr. Margeta is a glaucoma clinician and surgeon and a leader in the biology of microglia (unique cells of the brain and spinal cord) and in neuroinflammation.
Karthik Shekhar, PhD
Assistant Professor, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
Faculty Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory
Member, Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute
University of California Berkeley
A leader in computational biology, Dr. Shekhar has played a key role in collaborations that span neuroscience, immunology, single cell genomics, genetics, and machine learning, with a focus on visual systems.
Humsa Venkatesh, PhD
Assistant Professor, Program in Neuroscience
Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Harvard Medical School
Dr. Venkatesh’s discoveries have shaped the emerging field of cancer neuroscience, illuminating the nervous system’s role in disease progression.
Team members met for the first time in July 2022 and will start their work together by identifying promising avenues of investigation. Aging, injury, inflammation, genetics — these factors and more may play a role in neurodegeneration and could indicate potential targets for unprecedented treatments and cures.
“The Neurodegeneration Initiative is one of the most exciting projects I’ve been involved with,” says Adriana Di Polo, PhD, Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Montreal, who is an award-winning neuroscientist, glaucoma pioneer, and Chairs the Scientific Advisory Board for the new consortium. “It’s a groundbreaking step forward — not just tackling glaucoma but seeking cures for all neurodegenerative diseases.”
With the launch of the Neurodegeneration Initiative, Glaucoma Research Foundation is funding two simultaneous Catalyst for a Cure consortia, each with the potential to change the lives of people with glaucoma. Ongoing since 2019, the Steven and Michele Kirsch Catalyst for a Cure Vision Restoration Initiative has made enormous strides that could soon result in the ability to protect, preserve, and even regenerate retinal ganglion cells — key elements of the optic nerve that degenerate and die over time with glaucoma, causing blindness.
About Glaucoma and Alzheimer’s
Glaucoma is the world’s leading cause of irreversible blindness. Currently there is no cure, and everyone is at risk for developing this blinding disease. It is estimated that by 2040, 111 million people worldwide will have glaucoma.
A neurodegenerative condition like glaucoma, Alzheimer’s is a progressive, terminal brain disorder, responsible for up to 70 percent of cases of dementia. Treatment options are extremely limited and there is no cure.
About Glaucoma Research Foundation
Glaucoma Research Foundation is a national non-profit dedicated to finding a cure for glaucoma. For 44 years, Glaucoma Research Foundation has worked to advance sight-saving research and provide essential educational resources for patients. It funds critical research into glaucoma treatment, vision restoration, and a cure for glaucoma. It also is the leading source of information for glaucoma patients and their families. Those affected by glaucoma turn to Glaucoma Research Foundation to understand the disease, learn more about treatments, and receive updates on new medical therapies to help prevent blindness from glaucoma.
Posted on July 15, 2022
The principal investigators are pictured above, clockwise from left: Milica Margeta, MD, PhD, Sandro Da Mesquita, PhD, Humsa Venkatesh, PhD, and Karthik Shekhar, PhD.