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Catalyst for a Cure: 2017 Research Progress

The Catalyst for a Cure Biomarker Initiative funded by Glaucoma Research Foundation is a collaborative research effort designed to accelerate the pace of discovery toward better treatments and ultimately a cure for glaucoma.

Catalyst for a Cure (CFC) is a unique collaborative team of four laboratories with complementary skill sets spanning neuroscience, optical imaging, biomedical engineering, and clinical ophthalmology.

The CFC principal investigators are Alfredo Dubra, PhD, Jeffrey L. Goldberg, MD, PhD, Andrew Huberman, PhD, and Vivek Srinivasan, PhD.

Video Transcript

Andrew Huberman, PhD: Catalyst for a Cure is all about finding new ways to detect and treat glaucoma and ultimately to cure the disease.

Jeffrey Goldberg, MD, PhD: Catalyst for a Cure is all about collaborating to accelerate advances for glaucoma. We're focused on developing new biomarkers, but really that's for the explicit purpose of developing new therapies, new cures.

Vivek Srinivasan, PhD: The Catalyst for a Cure is unique because we have four investigators all working towards a common goal; working together, and funded to work together.

Alfredo Dubra, PhD: It's about the synergy of four research labs that would otherwise have pursued completely different research paths and would have not been able to advance half as much separately.

Dr. Huberman: It's extremely important to find new treatments and a cure for glaucoma because glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in humans. Right now there are over 70 million people who are suffering from glaucoma.

Dr. Goldberg: But for many patients even with the entire arsenal of therapies that we have available to us today they continue to progress. They're still losing vision. We really do need more effective therapies that can prevent the vision loss in glaucoma and even restore vision to those who have lost it in this disease.

There have been a couple of really major steps forward from the team this year. One is our basic understanding of how retinal ganglion cells and their axons appear to be reacting in pre-clinical models of glaucoma. We've devised ways to test patients using new imaging technologies to measure the health of their retinal ganglion cells and of their fibers entering the optic nerve.

Dr. Srinivasan: To test where patients are getting better we need to look inside their eye and assess how the eye is working. Are the cells healthy? Or are they still sick? And some of the new imaging techniques we're developing will allow us to achieve more precise and informative measurements in patients than many of the standard methods.

Having these new imaging techniques as well as evaluating new therapeutics can really make a big difference in improving the treatment of glaucoma in the future.

Dr. Dubra: This past year we've been focusing on improving a wide field adaptive optics instrument that we developed as part of this project so that it can, not only cover a big portion of the retina, but also achieve very high resolution. In this way we are going to be able to study a big portion of the retina in a clinically-viable timescale.

Dr. Huberman: One of the most significant things to happen in the Catalyst for a Cure initiative in this last year was the identification of a set of neurons called the “off” ganglion cell type. These are neurons in the eye that respond to decrements in light that we discovered in an animal model are especially vulnerable early stages of the disease.

We've been able to bridge those findings to human studies, developing ways to both look for those neurons in the retina, see whether or not they're sick using imaging techniques that Alf and Vivek have developed, and clinical tests along with Jeff Goldberg in order to detect whether or not patients are losing an excessive amount of those kinds of neurons by virtue of different types of field testing. So, the development of those tests is under way.

And finally, my lab has developed and discovered ways to stimulate retinal ganglion cells in an animal model to survive longer and regenerate in the face of stress and injury. We're taking that now, in collaboration with the other members of the consortium, to patients in order to use virtual reality and actually stimulate the retinas as a way to maintain the health and even repair the visual system.

Those studies are ongoing, but the common thread through all of that is we've finally managed to bridge from the animal studies all the way to humans, and we're taking that into the clinic. I think that's extremely exciting. It's what we set out to do 6 years ago, and we're finally arriving at the point where we're taking the studies that were devised in the laboratory, and the results of those studies, and putting them into patients.

Dr. Goldberg: In fact, this year we're now piggy-backing some of our clinical trials looking at these new biomarkers with clinical trials we're doing here [at Stanford] with new therapies that we hypothesize may actually improve patients’ vision in glaucoma, actually restore vision in glaucoma. The opportunity to collaborate and bridge across disciplines from neurosciences to engineering to optical imaging technologies, and bring that right into the clinic where we can engage with patients with glaucoma, test new therapeutic compounds, test these new diagnostics — this is a major opportunity to accelerate what we're doing.

Dr. Huberman: The last thing I'd like to say is I'm just immensely grateful for the Glaucoma Research Foundation's support of our work. It's really enabled us to move quickly. It's enabled us to be really fluid in our communications with the other members of the research team.

And I really want to thank the donors because ultimately without the generous donations of people supporting GRF, the work can't happen. We're immensely grateful for that as well. We're doing our absolute best to take those funds, put them into research projects that transition from the laboratory to the clinic, and ultimately that we'd like to get out to as many people as possible in order to halt and reverse vision loss.

End transcript.

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Last reviewed on February 21, 2018

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