Clarksburg, MD--BrightFocus Foundation, a nonprofit organization that funds innovative, early-stage research on Alzheimer's disease and the vision diseases of glaucoma and macular degeneration, today announced grant awards totaling more than $7.2 million to 53 scientists in 16 states and four foreign countries.
The funded research projects reflect the full range of new tools and innovations--in imaging technology, gene therapy, and cell regeneration--that scientists are using to better understand how diseases of mind and sight develop. Study results could lead to new therapies to prevent or treat these diseases.
"Investment in research has advanced our understanding of Alzheimer's and vision diseases," said BrightFocus President and CEO, Stacy Pagos Haller. "Now, thanks to new developments in genetics, neurology and imaging, the potential for scientists to make groundbreaking research discoveries is taking off. BrightFocus Foundation is more committed than ever to making this cutting-edge research possible, particularly at a time when government research funding levels are stagnant."
BrightFocus has provided $130 million to date in research funding, awarding more than $26 million for research on diseases of mind and sight in the last four years alone. This year's grantees include researchers from across the U.S., as well as Australia, Great Britain, Ireland, and Israel.
Alzheimer's Disease Research
Alzheimer's is a devastating degenerative disease that irreversibly destroys memory and other brain function over time. BrightFocus-funded scientists are studying various ways in which the "memory pathways" in the brain--the systems by which brain cells communicate--can go awry in this disease.
Some researchers are investigating whether certain chemicals control the "switches" to these pathways; others are using highly refined brain imaging or magnetic brain stimulation techniques to learn more about pathways; and some are using cell-based therapies to try to restore the brain circuits made during memory formation. Still others are studying how problems with brain blood flow contribute to Alzheimer's disease.
For all three diseases, scientists want to know how inflammation and the body's immune response system may be involved, making the body turn against healthy cells in the brain or eyes. Several glaucoma researchers are examining the mind-eye connection, and why changes in the brain may contribute to the development of glaucoma long before vision loss occurs. Early detection is particularly important for glaucoma: in the U.S., an estimated half of the three million people with glaucoma may not know they have the disease.
Macular Degeneration Research
New cell-based and gene-based therapies may help stop the nerve damage and the loss of the eye's retinal cells involved in macular degeneration. The latest cell regeneration techniques may allow scientists to restore damaged eye cells or generate new healthy ones. Researchers are also investigating the mysterious presence of micro RNAs, a large group of small molecules that may affect the functioning of the retina in macular degeneration--as well as brain functions in Alzheimer's disease.
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