Two days ago, as part of FFB’s “Light the Way to a Cure” fundraising campaign, I shared the story of Corey Haas, as an example of clinical trial participants benefitting from gene therapy studies the Foundation supports. In his case, the therapy’s for a retinal disease called Leber congenital amaurosis. Today, I’d like to share the story of Dick Coulson (pictured, left), who has age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in people age 55 and older. It’s also the target of two treatments that are currently in clinical, or human, trials, both of which are derived from stem cells.
At the age of 80, Dick Coulson (featured earlier this year in The New York Times) resides in Lakewood, Colorado, where he gets around with a white cane and engages in his favorite pastime, photography. Twenty-five years ago, during a routine eye exam, the doctor noticed yellow spots, otherwise known as drusen, on Dick’s retina, an early sign of AMD. Over the next 15 years, Dick’s sight got progressively worse, forcing him to give up driving and his orthodontic practice. He’s now legally blind.
Dick’s not a complainer. He’s still an active photographer, using a digital camera to shoot, then a magnifier on his computer screen to select images. And he loves to travel, even if that means asking strangers to help him find the gates for flights. Like most Foundation Fighting Blindness members, Dick also keeps up with the latest research for treatments for AMD and other retinal diseases.
As the Foundation’s CEO, Bill Schmidt, pointed out in his blog post listing the top 12 retinal-research advancements of 2012, StemCells, Inc., launched a clinical trial – one that involves human participants – for a treatment of AMD this past summer. In addition, two participants in another stem-cell-related clinical trial, this one conducted by Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), demonstrated improved vision this past year. One has AMD, the other a juvenile form called Stargardt disease.
Stem-cell-based therapies – including those derived from a patient’s blood or skin – are among the many cutting-edge approaches to treatments the Foundation has funded for decades. The $500 million we’ve raised thus far has been funneled into both pre-clinical and clinical research, for potential gene therapy and pharmaceutical treatments as well. Considering that 10 million Americans are affected by retinal diseases – including retinitis pigmentosa, Usher syndrome and choroideremia – we’re dedicated to funding the best researchers in the most prestigious institutions worldwide.
Which brings me back to Dick Coulson. As resourceful, energetic and optimistic as he is, he supports the Foundation’s work, to ensure that people entering their post-retirement years – that’s you, Baby Boomers – don’t have to lose their vision to AMD. The Foundation’s “Light the Way to a Cure” fundraising campaign, which doubles every dollar donated, will help us keep the research momentum going. And that will lead to treatments and cures, sooner rather than later.