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Catalyst for a Cure

Catalyst for a Cure is Glaucoma Research Foundation’s flagship research program. Groundbreaking, collaborative, committed to results — this unique discovery model brings great minds together to deliver a future free from glaucoma.

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Why Restore Vision?
Dr. Anna La Torre, an investigator with the Vision Restoration Initiative, explains why restoring vision is such a challenge.

Anna La Torre, PhD: The goal of the Catalyst for a Cure Vision Restoration Team is to really bring together our expertise to try to find some ways to restore vision in patients that have lost, partially or totally, their vision in glaucoma.

Restoring vision is a really challenging goal. So we’re trying to cover all our bases, and the first thing we’re trying to do is something called neuroprotection. We try to find ways to protect the cells that are still there and try to rewire the axons of the retinal ganglion cells. These are the little wires that connect the retina with the brain at the stage of a disease that the cells are still there, but this little connection is slowly degenerating. The other thing that we are trying to develop is technologies to be able to transplant new cells after the normal cells of a patient have already degenerated. So that second [goal] is a lot more challenging, but we are hopeful that we can make a difference.

I am a developmental biologist, and my passion is to understand how embryos develop and to understand how stem cells are able to make all these different cell types that make a human body including the eye. And so, in the lab we figured out the ways that stem cells make retinal cells, and we can apply that into cultures in a dish. Now we can create retinal cells in Petri dishes, and we can really scale up the production of these cells.

The final goal of creating the cells in the lab is to then have donor cells for transplantation approaches. So the final goal is to be able to collect the cells that we make in the lab, transplant them in the eye of a patient and hopefully find ways to really correctly rewire the lost connections.

I became a scientist because I think I’m a very curious person, and so I always wanted to know how things work, how cells work. But also, probably during my postdoc, I really wanted to make a difference for human health and to have research that’s really meaningful and improve human lives.

For me being part of the [Catalyst for a Cure] team is a unique opportunity. So, by bringing all of us together, we can create a project that wouldn’t be possible in any of our labs by themselves. And so, to me, I’m learning a lot from the other team members, but we’re also creating something together that hopefully is something very unique and can really lead to important discoveries.

I am very optimistic. I think that science is now progressing at the rate that we’ve never seen before. There’s new discoveries every day that really change everything we can do, and so what we’re trying to achieve is absolutely challenging and difficult. It’s going to take a while and lots of effort, but I’m really hopeful that we will be able to restore vision at some point in the future.

We are engineering stem cells to try to make them better at being donor cells. We are engineering them in ways so we can screen how we can get them to really engraft in a host retina after we transplant them and how we can get them to survive better after the transplantation and extend these axons that are really what’s needed to restore vision in the future.

End transcript.

Catalyst for a Cure grows from two research realities: Discovery happens faster when talented scientists work together. And breakthroughs don’t occur unless people invest in them.

Driven by our mission to catalyze a quantum leap in glaucoma care, Glaucoma Research Foundation engages scientists and philanthropists in a unique proposition: With support from donors who share our quest for a cure, our team of advisors selects four top researchers from four leading institutions to form a consortium dedicated to eradicating glaucoma. Investigators partner for three years, generating discoveries future teams can build on. Based on progress, the Foundation board may vote to extend a consortium’s funding for three additional years.

Launched in 2002, the first team of investigators (CFC1) changed the conventional understanding of glaucoma as an eye disease to a new understanding of glaucoma as a neurodegenerative disease, revealing the possibility of new therapeutic approaches. From 2012 to 2018, the second Catalyst for a Cure (CFC2), the Biomarker Initiative, identified novel indicators of disease, enabling clinicians to detect, measure, and treat glaucoma with unprecedented precision.

In 2019, in partnership with generous supporters, we launched CFC3, the Steven and Michele Kirsch Catalyst for a Cure Vision Restoration Initiative. Leveraging discoveries from the first two CFC teams, four investigators are speeding the quest to restore vision lost to glaucoma. Early results have been extremely promising, leading the way for new genetic, neuroprotective, and cell replacement therapies and bringing us ever closer to a cure.

A fourth initiative launched in 2022 is investigating what glaucoma has in common with other neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The Melza M. and Frank Theodore Barr Foundation Catalyst for a Cure Initiative to Prevent and Cure Neurodegeneration breaks new ground by supporting research into multiple diseases, seeking knowledge and solutions that could affect all neurodegenerative conditions.

The Catalyst for a Cure discovery model is unique in the world of scientific research. Usually, scientists work individually and often compete for grant money. In contrast, Catalyst for a Cure investigators, working out of their own labs at prestigious academic centers across the country, pursue promising leads together. They design their research in partnership, report results as a team, and, learning from and inspiring each other, generate insights much more quickly than they could working alone. Through their generous donations, supporters of Glaucoma Research Foundation make this unique and important progress possible.

Explore Catalyst for a Cure Initiatives

CFC4: The Melza M. and Frank Theodore Barr Foundation Catalyst for a Cure Initiative to Prevent and Cure Neurodegeneration

CFC3: The Steven and Michele Kirsch Catalyst for a Cure Vision Restoration Initiative

CFC2: The Biomarker Initiative

CFC1: The Inaugural Initiative

"Catalyst for a Cure Report: Twenty Years of Innovation 2002 to 2022 — A Guide for Collaborative Research"

Catalyst for a Cure Researcher Dr. Milica Margeta photographed in her laboratory