For science geeks like me, the announcement of Nobel Prize for Medicine winners is always exciting news. But this year’s two recipients are especially near and dear to my heart, because their groundbreaking work is having an enormous impact on sight-saving retinal research.
Dr. Steve Rose
As the Foundation Fighting Blindness’ chief research officer, Dr. Stephen Rose – who prefers to be called Steve – is highly respected for his expertise, intelligence and tireless commitment to finding treatments and cures for vision-robbing retinal diseases. But it’s his accessibility and down-to-earth nature that stand out for many of his peers and Foundation members.
“With Steve, the door is always open. You can walk into his office at almost any time with a problem or an issue, and he is ready and willing to help,” says Dr. Brian Mansfield, the Foundation’s deputy chief research officer. “He also has a phenomenal memory and knowledge base to draw from. And in the event he doesn’t have an immediate answer for you, he’ll pick up the phone and reach out to his many friends and collaborators throughout the science community. The man is incredibly well-connected.”
Steve, who has a Ph.D. in microbiology and joined the Foundation in 2004, supervises its research efforts, which include awarding grants and facilitating clinical trials. He also manages the Science department and works closely with the Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board, Board of Directors and Science Liaison Committee. Before joining the Foundation, he served more than 14 years with the National Institutes of Health, where he led several divisions, including genetics, clinical research and transplantation studies. He’s also a member of many prominent scientific and research organizations, including: the Health Research Alliance, the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy, the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology and the American Association of Immunologists.
Despite his background, Steve has a knack for explaining scientific concepts and retinal research in terms that everyone understands, making him a popular speaker at Foundation and retinal-field events. Bill Schmidt, the Foundation’s chief executive officer, appreciates Steve for, among other things, his enthusiasm. “There’s no one more passionate about retinal research,” Bill says, “and he does all he can to ensure that the Foundation supports only the best projects — those with strong sight-saving potential. There’s no better advocate for those who’ve lost or are losing their sight, and our recent success in driving research into the clinic is great evidence of that.”
I was very excited to learn that another clinical trial using stem cells for the potential treatment of a retinal disease — in this case, dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD) — is now underway. StemCells, Inc. (got to love the company’s name) announced last week that its first patient was treated at the Retina Foundation of the Southwest in Dallas.
You wouldn’t think that the ability to sort black, white and grey socks would be a big deal for a successful attorney, but when that lawyer is completely blind from retinitis pigmentosa (RP), and used a “bionic retina” to accomplish the simple task, well, that is a big deal.
Without a doubt, as chief research officer at FFB, I get more questions about clinical trials – also known as human studies – than any other topic. So, I thought it would be useful to provide a list of the major clinical trials underway right now for retinal disease treatments. Continue Reading…
I was very heartened to hear about and then see a recent news story on the first patient to be treated in the Usher syndrome 1B gene therapy clinical trial at Casey Eye Institute, Oregon Health & Science University. When I saw the big smile on the face of Michelle Kopf, the young woman featured in the article, it brought a smile to my face.
A couple weeks ago, I was in China, to visit with Dr. Ruifang Sui, a Foundation-funded clinician-researcher at the Peking Union Medical College Hospital in Beijing. During my time there, I felt like I had never left the United States. Don’t get me wrong — there’s no mistaking Beijing for Baltimore (the location of our national office) or Mandarin for English. But when it comes to retinal degenerations, we and the Chinese have a lot in common.
Woody Allen once said, “I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” However, for researchers fighting blindness, “being there” when cones die — at least the cones in a mouse model of retinal disease — was recently a good thing. It provided important clues about how to keep them alive in people.
Could the complex function of rods and cones — converting light into signals that the brain can interpret as vision — be replicated in a pair of high-tech glasses? Based on the recent research advances made by Dr. Sheila Nirenberg at Weill Cornell Medical College, it looks like a possibility.
If you’re going on a cross-country road trip, the highlight of your journey is not the safety check. Putting air in the tires, topping off the brake and power-steering fluids, making sure the front and back lights are working properly and adjusting the mirrors are not cause for raucous celebration.
After a rigorous review process, the Foundation is funding eight new research projects for a wide range of conditions, including Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and retinitis pigmentosa (RP). You can read about these exciting projects in an article recently posted on the Foundation’s homepage.