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Catalyst for a Cure Biomarker Initiative (CFC2)

The CFC2 Researchers in 2014
The CFC2 Researchers in 2014

In 2012, Glaucoma Research Foundation formed the Catalyst for a Cure (CFC) Biomarker Initiative with a goal to develop novel methods to detect, measure, and treat glaucoma with unprecedented precision.

The research team was asked to identify and develop new, specific and sensitive biomarkers to diagnose and manage glaucoma more effectively.

New biomarkers could help predict glaucoma in patients who do not yet show symptoms of vision loss, as well as help eye doctors choose the best course of treatment tailored specifically for each patient.

A new biomarker may also be a new treatment target for glaucoma to preserve vision. A key element to the team’s success has been the development of advanced imaging systems with the goal of identifying changes in the retinal ganglion cells that are first affected in glaucoma — before any vision is lost.

Innovative Research Model

The CFC collaborative research model brings together four principal investigators and their laboratories, each with a specific skill, to work together to understand glaucoma and find ways to improve treatment and ultimately cure this blinding disease.

Typically, in scientific research, individual scientists work on separate projects and share the advances they make only at conferences and in publications. Often, scientists in the same field are in competition for grant money to fund their work. Instead of competing with each other, the Catalyst for a Cure scientists engage in a research collaboration that builds on their collective strengths. By design, their collaborative efforts enable them to move more quickly toward a cure.

For the CFC Biomarker Initiative, Glaucoma Research Foundation brought together four scientists from prestigious academic centers across the country chosen for their particular expertise in biomedical imaging, physics, retinal cell biology, neurobiology, and clinical ophthalmology.

Research Progress

In the early stages of the initiative, the team’s strategy was to cast a wide net, investigating diverse candidate biomarkers, and during this time the team made important initial discoveries.

Retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), the cells that degenerate and are responsible for vision loss in glaucoma, have been divided into many subtypes and certain subtypes may get injured or die first in glaucoma. The CFC researchers completed a detailed and systematic analysis of RGC subtypes and found that one subtype changes its shape much earlier in the disease. They then developed techniques to identify whether these and other potential candidate biomarkers may signal early changes that lead to vision loss in glaucoma.

From 2012 to 2018, the CFC Biomarkers team made exceptional progress moving their studies from the laboratory to the clinic to further test their top choices for new potential biomarkers. They developed potential new non-drug therapies using computers and virtual reality. Their research has already resulted in at least two new clinical trials to protect vision, and with funding from the National Eye Institute, they are continuing these important research initiatives.

Benefits of Biomarkers

The Catalyst of a Cure researchers identified specific cells in the eye that are among the earliest to show changes in glaucoma. These may be useful as glaucoma biomarkers and they are important for several reasons:

  • Early detection — Early diagnosis is the key to preventing vision loss. Sensitive biomarkers hold the potential to let doctors detect the disease early, before any vision is lost.
  • Faster drug discovery — Glaucoma progresses slowly. An effective biomarker could demonstrate the efficacy of a drug more quickly and accelerate federal approval for new treatments. Candidate biomarkers identified by the CFC team are already being used to test efficacy of new treatments in early clinical trials.
  • More effective treatment — Biomarkers could help doctors learn sooner if a treatment is working or not, helping them to treat glaucoma patients more effectively.
  • Closer to a cure — The more we understand about biomarkers, the closer we are to discovering the root causes of the glaucoma — and the cure.


Catalyst for a Cure Investigators (Biomarker Initiative)

The second team of Catalyst for a Cure investigators, funded by Glaucoma Research Foundation from 2012 to 2018, identified several new biomarkers that are currently being tested in early clinical trials with glaucoma patients.

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Alfredo Dubra, PhD
Associate Professor of Ophthalmology
Stanford University School of Medicine

The main goal of the Dubra lab is to develop non-invasive optical imaging methods for early detection and monitoring of eye disease. The lab pursues a multidisciplinary approach, with a major focus on translating techniques and analytical tools from physics, astronomy and mathematics into robust quantitative diagnostic tools.


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Jeffrey L. Goldberg, MD, PhD
Professor and Chair,
Department of Ophthalmology,
Stanford University School of Medicine

Dr. Goldberg's research is directed at neuroprotection and regeneration of retinal ganglion cells and other retinal neurons. His laboratory is developing novel stem cell and nanotherapeutics approaches for ocular repair, studying retinal ganglion cell development, survival and axon regeneration in glaucoma, and investigating the cellular basis for the developmental loss of axon growth ability.


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Andrew D. Huberman, PhD
Associate Professor,

Departments of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology
Stanford University School of Medicine

The purpose of the Huberman laboratory is to understand how the retinal and brain circuits that underlie vision wire up during development and to develop new strategies to monitor, prevent, and treat retinal ganglion cell loss in glaucoma.


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Vivek Srinivasan, PhD
Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Ophthalmology & Vision Science, and Chancellor's Fellow
University of California, Davis
Department of Biomedical Engineering
Davis, California

The Srinivasan Biophotonics Laboratory develops novel optical imaging techniques and diagnostics with applications spanning from basic to clinical research. In particular, the lab is interested in neuronal control of hemodynamics and metabolism both in health and disease in the central nervous system, including the retina and brain. Their highly interdisciplinary approach combines cutting edge imaging technologies with collaborations ranging from neurobiology to neurology and ophthalmology to test fundamental hypotheses and explore the diagnostic implications.

Last reviewed on May 21, 2019

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