Three Million in New Canadian Vision Research
April 29, 2013 - Two new vision research projects have each been awarded $1.5 million dollars by Brain Canada, a Canadian research organization dedicated to neuroscience research.
In total, Brain Canada received 165 proposals from research groups
across the country and invited 31 of these groups to apply. Two groups of vision scientists were finalists; Brain Canada announced that both projects were among the top five approved for funding.
The two projects were led by Dr. Michel Cayouette and Dr. Valerie Wallace, respectively. Both Dr. Cayouette and Dr. Wallace have received extensive research funding from the Foundation Fighting Blindness in the past, and both give back to the Foundation as part of our Scientific Advisory Board.
“We are so proud of them,” says Foundation Fighting Blindness President and CEO, Sharon Colle. “Their success in this highly competitive Brain Canada award process demonstrates the quality of the vision research community our donors have helped create. We are thrilled to see this major new investment in vision research going forward through the Brain Canada program.”
Sight-Saving Transplants for Age-Related Macular Degeneration
The team led by Dr. Valerie Wallace will investigate ways to transplant cone photoreceptors to restore detailed central vision to people with age-related macular degeneration. This grant will look at ways of reprogramming skin cells to become cone photoreceptors, as well as techniques to improve the survival of transplanted cells.
If successful, such transplant techniques might eventually allow a physician to collect skin cells from a patient and create transplant cells that would restore the patient’s sight without fear of having these transplants rejected by the body’s immune system.
“This new grant builds on findings from a previous study funded by the Foundation Fighting Blindness and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, where we learned more about the genes that reprogram cells into photoreceptor cells and developed the tools we needed to investigate cone transplantation to the retina,” says Dr. Wallace.
Studying the shape of vision cells
Dr. Cayouette’s grant allows his team to explore a new research direction to understand how retinal cells and other nerve cells acquire and maintain their unique shape.
“If you want to fix a car,” says Dr. Cayouette, “you first have to understand how that car is constructed. We believe that the same principle applies to repairing the nervous system.” His new research will look at how nerve cells are constructed and how their shape and structure contributes to their function and survival.
“In retinal diseases, we know that it is the outer part of the photoreceptor that degrades first,” says Dr. Cayouette. “We also know that mutations in at least one gene, CRB1, changes the basic shape of the cells and lead to genetic types of both retinitis pigmentosa and Leber congenital amaurosis. We believe there are many more such genes involved. By studying the mechanisms controlling how photoreceptors and other nerve cells acquire a specific shape, we hope to better understand how these cells are damaged by disease.”
The team hopes that their work might eventually lead to the identification of novel therapeutic targets that could be useful to treat an array of brain diseases, from Alzheimer and Parkinson disease to retinal degenerations.
Funding of the two projects is made possible with support from the federal government and the W. Garfield Weston Foundation. Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq spoke at the April 29 announcement.
“I want to congratulate the grant recipients and thank them for their deep commitment to advancing scientific discoveries in this complex field, which we all believe are possible,” said Minister Aglukkaq.
To learn more about this competition, visit the Brain Canada web site.