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Catalyst for a Cure: Neuroprotection

Catalyst for a Cure (CFC) is a major collaborative research effort redefining how glaucoma research is conducted.

Launched in 2002, the original team of four Catalyst for a Cure investigators has made a significant impact on the field of glaucoma research. Their findings have redefined our understanding of how glaucoma steals sight and created possibilities for new therapeutic approaches to the disease.

The CFC was formed by convening four investigative groups chosen by the Glaucoma Research Foundation’s CFC Scientific Advisory Board for their particular expertise in neurobiology, ophthalmology and developmental genetics.

Results-oriented Research

Our funding of the Catalyst for a Cure (CFC) and its innovative collaborative approach to research has changed the conventional understanding of glaucoma from an eye disease to a neurodegenerative brain disease.

CFC research has yielded promising results on two fronts: preventing vision loss from late stage glaucoma, and therapeutic treatment to stop glaucoma before it starts. For example, two papers from the CFC published in the Journal of Neuroscience have uncovered important findings:

  • In the early stages of glaucoma, there is a failure of transport of important scaffolding material, nutrients and individual fibers in the optic nerve. This shows up first not in the eye, but in the visual centers of the brain — and coincides with a build-up of oxidative stress and a slowing down of tiny energy batteries in the nerves known as mitochondria.
  • While this is occurring, the connections in the retina that begin the transfer of visual information are targeted for removal, which is affected by specialized sentinels in the retina called microglia. In the early stages of glaucoma, microglia scan the retina for signs of damaged connections and mark those connections for removal by the immune system, leading to vision loss.

The original CFC researchers will continue to chase down the mechanisms underlying transport loss, oxidative stress, and loss of connections so they can be targeted through new therapeutic interventions.

In 2012, Glaucoma Research Foundation assembled a second team of four investigators to work collaboratively and further expand our knowledge of glaucoma. This new team is adding critical skills and fresh perspectives to the Catalyst for a Cure.

The Catalyst for a Cure Principal Investigators (Neuroprotection)


David J. Calkins, PhD
Vice-Chairman and Director of Research;
Denis M. O’Day Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Neuroscience and Psychology
Director, Vanderbilt Vision Research Center
Vanderbilt Eye Institute, Nashville, Tennessee

The Calkins lab focuses on the mechanisms of neurodegeneration in glaucoma. Using systems, cellular and molecular approaches, they investigate how risk factors contribute to neurodegeneration and test new treatments. Dr. Calkins specializes in molecular mechanisms of the retina and optic nerve.


Philip J. Horner, PhD
Professor of Neuroregeneration, Institute for Academic Medicine
Scientific Director, Center for Neuroregeneration
Houston Methodist, Weill Cornell Medical College
Houston, Texas

The Horner lab is focused on neurodegeneration and neural regeneration in models of glaucoma and spinal cord injury. The lab established and maintains a reliable glaucoma model to study and test hypotheses. Dr. Horner’s experience in spinal cord injury and glial cells has been applied to glaucoma leading to new findings on the role of gliosis and oxidative stress in glaucoma.


Nicholas Marsh-Armstrong, PhD
Associate Professor, Department of Ophthalmology and Vision Science
University of California, Davis
Davis, Calif.

The Marsh-Armstrong laboratory studies molecular mechanisms involved in gene regulation, development and disease of the central nervous system, focusing principally on the retina. Marsh-Armstrong has identified gamma-synuclein aggregates in glaucoma in the CFC model of glaucoma — an important finding relating glaucoma to other neurodegenerative diseases.


Monica L. Vetter, PhD
Professor and Chair, Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy
Interim Associate Vice President, Research for Health Sciences
University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah

The Vetter lab is studying glaucoma at the molecular level to understand how genetics influence and determine the fate of neurons in the retina and central nervous system. Their goal is to reveal principles governing cell biology that will lead to new disease treatments. Dr. Vetter is committed to better understanding the role of microglia in retinal ganglion cell pathology in glaucoma.

Last reviewed on June 01, 2018

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