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Our Mission and History

GRF co-founders Dr. Shaffer, Dr. Hoskins, and Dr. Hetherington
GRF co-founders Dr. Shaffer, Dr. Hoskins, and Dr. Hetherington

At Glaucoma Research Foundation, our mission is to cure glaucoma and restore vision through innovative research.

Founded in 1978 in San Francisco, the Glaucoma Research Foundation (GRF) was created to encourage innovative research to find better ways to care for people with glaucoma — the leading cause of preventable blindness.

H. Dunbar Hoskins Jr., MD is former Executive Vice President of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Board Director Emeritus for the Glaucoma Research Foundation. In San Francisco in the 1970s, Dr. Hoskins was a partner in a practice led by Robert Shaffer, MD (1912-2007), one of only a handful of ophthalmology practices in the country specializing in glaucoma. John Hetherington, Jr., MD (1930 - 2020) was also a partner in the practice at the time.

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GRF Co-founder Robert Shaffer, MD

In 1961, Shaffer had already distinguished himself as one of the leading clinicians in glaucoma when, working with Dr. Bernard Becker, he wrote the definitive text, Diagnosis and Therapy of the Glaucomas.

“We weren’t seeing enough hope for our patients back then,” remembers Dr. Hoskins. “We desperately needed better treatments. But there weren’t that many researchers interested in the field. We knew we needed some breakthroughs, and urgently. But we also knew we needed to expand the field of glaucoma research and bring more innovative thinkers. We thought this kind of entrepreneurial research would be a catalyst for others, and we could accelerate the rate of discovery.”

And so, in 1978, Drs. Shaffer, Hoskins and Hetherington founded the Glaucoma Research Foundation, now America’s oldest and most experienced national institution dedicated solely to its mission: to cure glaucoma and restore vision through innovative research.

Learn more about our founder Dr. Robert N. Shaffer: Read the book online: 'Robert N. Shaffer, MD at 90, An Oral History and Memoir'.

From our founding up until today, and into the future, we’ve relied on the generous support of the community, and more importantly, on your active involvement to raise awareness, spread the word of our mission, and encourage others to aid our goal of curing glaucoma. The heart of our history has been the people who get involved.

Highlights and Achievements

Following are some of the innovations and research results that Glaucoma Research Foundation has achieved since its founding in 1978.


Shaffer Glaucoma Fellows in the 1970s

1978 - The Shaffer Glaucoma Fellowship funds young ophthalmologists to study glaucoma.

1982 - GRF's free newsletter, Gleams, is first published, mailing to an audience of 483. Current circulation reaches 110,000. (84,000 people today read Gleams in print and 26,000 by email.)

1983 - The first edition of the guide Understanding and Living with Glaucoma is published. Today, 22 editions have been printed and millions of booklets have been distributed.

1992 - Researchers gather for the first Glaucoma Research Catalyst meeting. Results include a new patent for ocular therapy with homologous macrophages.

1996 - www.glaucoma.org debuts on the worldwide web. Now, the Glaucoma Research Foundation website is a primary destination for glaucoma information with 4 million visits annually.

1997 - In a GRF-funded collaborative study, researchers isolate the TIGR gene, found to be responsible for some forms of juvenile and adult glaucoma.

1998 - Collaborative Normal Tension Glaucoma (NTG) Study is reported in the American Journal of Ophthalmology. A collaborative effort of 24 research and medical centers around North America and Europe, the study evolved out of a 1984 GRF research meeting and is designed to determine whether it is beneficial to lower eye pressures when they are already at a normal level. It is the first multi-center clinical trial that documents the effectiveness of current treatment in any form of glaucoma.

2000 - With funding from GRF, researchers at Children's Hospital and Harvard University Medical School in Boston, MA uncover a way to stimulate the damaged optic nerve and thus regenerate the nerve to a much greater extent than ever before.

2001 - With project funding provided by GRF, the Weizmann Institute of Science researchers in Rehovot, Israel, conduct a study demonstrating that vaccination with a compound normally used to treat multiple sclerosis may be able to protect the optic nerve.


2002 - GRF's Catalyst for a Cure (CFC) research program commences. CFC scientists at four respected university laboratories work in real-time collaboration to speed progress of treatment and a possible cure for glaucoma. The consortium uses recent breakthroughs in neuroscience, molecular biology, genetics, and immunology.

2006 - Catalyst for a Cure research team reports development of three new hypotheses for how glaucoma is initiated and where new therapeutic targets can be found.

2006 - Catalyst for a Cure studies indicate glaucoma shares common characteristics with other neurological disorders.

2007 - GRF-funded scientists make 20 presentations at major international eye research meeting.

2008 - GRF-funded researchers conduct two effective interventions in a model of glaucoma.

2010 - GRF holds international Catalyst Meeting in which leading experts discuss and share ideas for new directions in glaucoma research.

2011 - Calkins laboratory at Vanderbilt reports in published study that the first sign of injury in glaucoma occurs in the brain.

2011 - Catalyst for a Cure researchers identify a window of opportunity for preventing vision loss in the very early stages of glaucoma progression.

2012 - Glaucoma Research Foundation launches the inaugural Glaucoma 360 - three annual events uniting research, industry, and philanthropy with one mission - to find a cure for glaucoma.

2012 - CFC research team reports that the onset and speed of vision loss in glaucoma depends upon a critical "tipping point" that involves a delicate balance between the metabolism of the retina and optic nerve and communication between individual cells.

Catalyst for a Cure biomarkers team

2014 - CFC researchers identify new glaucoma biomarkers and develop technology to accurately measure biomarkers in glaucoma patients.

2015 - Early retina cell changes in glaucoma identified by Catalyst for a Cure research lab. Published study points to the specific structural features and cell types in the retina that may act as key factors in glaucoma progression.

2019 - A new team of Catalyst for a Cure researchers embark upon vision restoration and finding a cure for glaucoma based on work of their predecessors.

2020 - Researchers in the Catalyst for a Cure Vision Restoration team report in a study published December 14, 2020 in PNAS (The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) that by inhibiting a particular family of enzymes, it may be possible to develop new therapies for treating neurodegenerative diseases including glaucoma and Alzheimer’s.

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