Working with UC Berkeley researchers, the Glaucoma Research Foundation launched a research initiative July 15 studying neurodegenerative diseases, such as glaucoma and Alzheimer’s disease.
Founded in 1978, the research center is the largest nonprofit for glaucoma research, according to Glaucoma Research Foundation President and CEO Thomas Brunner. The center has funded four total research initiatives following its Catalyst for a Cure model, which coordinates and funds teams of scientists with support provided from scientific advisors.
According to Brunner, the foundation’s latest initiative named Melza M. and Frank Theodore Barr Catalyst for a Cure to Prevent and Cure Neurodegeneration brings together four researchers from different institutions and backgrounds. One of these researchers is Karthik Shekhar, campus assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.
“The idea here is to see if we bring people together with different scientific backgrounds and experiences and across different neurodegenerative diseases, that they might have some unique insights, get some new ideas and perhaps some breakthroughs that could lead to preventing and curing these diseases,” Brunner said.
The four researchers involved in the initiative met for the first time July 15, the date of the initiative’s launch, to discuss their goals, said initiative researcher and Harvard Medical School assistant professor Milica Margeta. The researchers will work in their own labs and toward their shared goals, Margeta added.
Unlike many other grants, the researchers were given a lot of flexibility with the direction of their research, according to Margeta. Typically, detailed proposals must be written before research projects are able to receive funding, but in this case, the researchers met for the first time and discussed their plans after receiving funding, she said.
“We will closely work together and come up with these goals that will bring our research areas together and hopefully come up with some very novel ideas and policies or findings that one wouldn’t be able to figure out if one just worked in isolation,” Margeta said.
According to Scientific Advisory Board chair and University of Montreal professor Adriana Di Polo, the goal of the research initiative is to find similarities across multiple neurodegenerative diseases — such as glaucoma and Alzheimer’s disease — in order to eventually prevent and identify therapies for them.
The research initiative aims to address the “huge unmet need” surrounding neurodegenerative diseases, according to Brunner. He added that glaucoma is the world’s leading cause of irreversible blindness, but that there is currently no cure.
“What makes me passionate about it is I can see that this research model really works,” Brunner said. “It really produces important findings and I’m just excited about continuing that with these teams and seeing how they come together.”