Dr. Matthew LaVail was awarded the Llura Liggett Gund Award—the most prestigious honor awarded by The Foundation Fighting Blindness (FFB)—for lifetime achievement in retinal disease research.
“Precious little was being done in the field of retinal degenerative research thirty years ago, when Dr. LaVail was forging new territory,” said Gordon Gund, chairman and founder of the Foundation Fighting Blindness. “Today, thanks to his leadership in the field, we are making progress on gene therapies, retinal prosthetics and transplantation, stem cells and the impact of diet and nutrition.”
“It is true that we do not have cures yet for retinitis pigmentosa, macular degeneration, Usher syndrome and the other diseases of the retinal degenerative diseasesspectrum,” Gund continued, “However, every day we get closer, thanks to the leadership, talents, and commitment of people such as Dr. LaVail.”
Dr. LaVail, who is only the fourth recipient of the Llura Liggett Gund Award in FFB’s history, is the Director of the Retinitis Pigmentosa Research Center/Kearn Family Center for the Study of Retinal Degeneration at the Department of Opthalmology, University of California, San Francisco. He is currently the director of a National Institutes of Health Core Grant for vision research.
He is a world-recognized leader in neurotophic factors and neuroprotection, and author of publications that began to define the field of retinal disease research in the early 1980s. He has given more than 100 invited lectures, and organized more than 13 scientific symposia, including the “International Symposium on Retinal Degenerations.” Dr. LaVail is the editor of 11 books.
A graduate of the University of Texas and Harvard Medical School, Dr. LaVail has published more than 145 peer-reviewed research papers, including the seminal research on describing the role of growth and neurotrophic factors in retinal development and defining the models used worldwide today for retinal research.
Leading scientific experts from all over the world are investigating neuroprotective therapies to treat a variety of devastating neurological conditions including: Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and multiple sclerosis (MS). With funding from the Foundation Fighting Blindness, the biopharmaceutical company Neurotech is conducting Phase II clinical trials of a tiny capsule, only six millimeters in length, which provides sustained delivery of ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF) to the retinas of people affected by age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa. In Phase I studies, the treatment was safe and it slowed or reversed vision loss in study participants. The work of Dr. LaVail is giving companies such as Neurotech clear targets for developing promising neuroprotective treatments.
The Llura Liggett Gund Award, named for one of the founding members of The Foundation Fighting Blindness, is embodied in an original Steuben crystal sculpture, exclusively designed for The Foundation.
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