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Scientists Convene at VISIONS 2013 to Evaluate Research Projects for Funding

FFB Scientific Advisory Board members Drs. David Birch, Retina Foundation of the Southwest; Jeremy Nathans, Johns Hopkins University; Ricard Weleber, Oregon Health & Science University.

Just before the official kick-off of the VISIONS 2013 conference in Baltimore, 20 members of the Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) gathered in an intensive daylong session to evaluate 28 individual research projects up for funding from the Foundation. The proposals were finalists from 117 initial submissions made last fall.The SAB also reviewed funding for three of the Foundation’s five-year Center Grants, which are given to institutions that conduct collaborative and complementary clinical and laboratory studies.

Historically, because of revenue limitations, the Foundation funds about 25 percent of the individual proposals that make it to the final step in our annual evaluation process. Every year, we have to leave many high-quality projects on the table, which makes the review process all the more challenging and imperative.

The projects under consideration run the gamut, but all are focused on research that will lead to preventions, treatments and cures. They include: gene therapies, stem cell treatments, small molecules (drugs) and genetic studies. The goal of some proposals is to build knowledge of how and why vision loss occurs in retinal disease, which is critical to figuring out how to optimally treat the conditions.

We’ll announce this year’s funded projects by early August, once we tally the final results and notify the grantees. Last year we funded eight proposals for $2.4 million.

I was delighted to welcome three new participants in the final grants review process: Jacque Duncan, M.D., University of California, San Francisco; David Gamm, M.D., Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Muna Naash, Ph.D., University of Oklahoma.

It is a significant commitment for the busy investigators, but they appreciated taking on the role. “The quality of the research is remarkable. The field is at a very exciting stage with many of the proposed grants having strong clinical relevance,” said Dr. Naash, “I will no doubt take away knowledge from the process that will inform my own projects.”

Keep in mind that the evaluation process is for new grants. We currently fund 128 projects, which typically last three to five years. When projects reach the end of their term, researchers must submit new proposals for evaluation, if they want to continue down the same research path or follow a different direction.

Also, scientists are required to provide us with progress reports to demonstrate that they are moving forward in their work. If there are setbacks, they need to tell us how they plan to overcome them for their funding to continue.

A complete list and descriptions of our currently funded grants is on FFB’s website.

Many thanks to everyone who supports the Foundation’s critical research through generous gifts and participation in events such as VisionWalk and Dining in the Dark. Our sight-saving research would not happen without you.

Pictured above, left to right, FFB Scientific Advisory Board members Drs. David Birch, Retina Foundation of the Southwest; Jeremy Nathans, Johns Hopkins University; Richard Weleber, Oregon Health & Science University.



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