The Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences has been awarded an unrestricted grant along with three individual awards that could total up to $1 million by the Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) Foundation. These are the most grants awarded in a single year to the Case Western Reserve visual sciences program since 1997. In that time, the program has received $2,712,500 from RPB, one of the world's leading voluntary organizations supporting eye research.
One highlight is the awarding of the $650,000 Jules & Doris Stein RPB Professorship to Irina A. Pikuleva, who was the only RPB Stein awardee in the United States this year. A nominee for a Jules & Doris Stein RPB Professorship —RPB's premier award— must be recruited into a primary appointment in an ophthalmology department, with a secondary appointment in the basic sciences. To date, the program has helped to attract 44 exceptionally talented basic scientists to devote their careers to eye research.
Pikuleva, a national leader in studies of cytochromes P450, the key enzymes involved in cholesterol elimination, was recruited to Case Western Reserve to apply her expertise along with the newly-funded National Eye Institute and other National Institutes of Health-related grants to examine whether there are similar mechanisms in the development of atherosclerosis, Alzheimer's disease and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
As the RPB Stein chair, Pikuleva is eligible to apply for an RPB matching grant to purchase additional lab equipment. Funding she receives from RPB would be matched by the School of Medicine, potentially bringing total allocation to the department to approximately $1 million.
"We are proud of Dr. Pikuleva's award and fortunate to have such a leader in her field to potentially provide new insights into the pathogenesis of AMD that may lead to new approaches in treatment," said Jonathan Lass, the Charles I. Thomas Professor and chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the School of Medicine and director of the University Hospitals Eye Institute. "The promise of her research is immeasurable; to understand the relationship between AMD and how the body metabolizes cholesterol can lead to therapeutics that will ultimately help the vision of every person."
Paul Shin-Hyun Park, assistant professor in ophthalmology and visual sciences, received a four-year, $200,000 RPB Research Career Development Award, which is designed to attract young physicians and basic scientists to research positions in ophthalmology. Park also is the recipient of a prestigious Pathway to Independence grant from the NIH, which is awarded to only the most promising young investigators with a high probability of success as an independent investigator.
"Dr. Park's work could provide new insights into rhodopsin structure and function that may have major implications in the treatment of retinal degenerative diseases, including macular degeneration," Lass said.
Ram Nagaraj, the Carl F. Asseff, professor in ophthalmology and visual sciences and a past RPB Wasserman Merit honoree, was awarded the $75,000 Senior Scientific Investigator Award in recognition of his contributions to the understanding of the pathogenesis of cataract and diabetic retinopathy.
"His studies of the effects of advanced glycation endproducts and oxidation may lead to new therapeutic approaches that could delay the onset of cataract and prevent the serious consequences of diabetic retinopathy," said Lass. "Together, the designation of these grants is a great testament to the depth of our research programs and recognition of our scientists' dedication to advance human health."
The Research to Prevent Blindness Foundation supports eye research directed at the prevention, treatment or eradication of all diseases that threaten vision. Today, RPB provides major eye research funding to more than 50 leading scientific institutions in the U.S. and supports the work of hundreds of talented vision scientists engaged in a diverse range of disease-oriented research.
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