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Catalyst for a Cure: Vision Restoration Initiative

Catalyst for a Cure researchers
Catalyst for a Cure researchers

The Steven and Michele Kirsch Catalyst for a Cure Vision Restoration Initiative is pursuing exciting leads and making important progress in vision restoration.

The consortium is exploring multiple promising avenues, from optic nerve regeneration to transplantation to gene manipulation, toward the goal of restoring useful sight to patients who have lost vision to glaucoma.

Glaucoma Research Foundation launched the Catalyst for a Cure (CFC) Vision Restoration Initiative in 2019 with a goal to better understand what specifically causes vision loss in glaucoma and then to identify targeted interventions for protecting and restoring the neurons responsible for vision.

This is the third team of CFC investigators funded by Glaucoma Research Foundation. The team’s research will build on discoveries made by the first two CFC teams and their collaboration will intensify the search for new genetic, neuroprotective, and cell replacement therapies for glaucoma.

Innovative Research Model

The Catalyst for a Cure consortium is a team of four principal investigators and their laboratories working together to accelerate the pace of discovery toward a cure for glaucoma.

Different from typical research models where scientists work individually and often compete for grant money, Catalyst for a Cure scientists are engaged in a research collaboration that builds on their collective strengths. By design, their multi-disciplinary skills and efforts will enable them to move more quickly toward their goal.

This innovative program recruits investigators from prestigious academic centers across the country to pursue promising leads together. This proven approach to collaborative discovery has attracted specialists not previously researching glaucoma to help accelerate a cure.

Significant Breakthroughs

Catalyst for a Cure is now in its third chapter. The first team of investigators made significant breakthroughs that helped redefine glaucoma as a neurodegenerative disease. Their insights may lead to new ways to treat glaucoma as well as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, ALS, and other illnesses in the same family. In 2012, a second CFC research team applied this successful discovery model to identify new biomarkers that reveal the earliest signs of glaucoma. Our investigators’ work sets the stage for even better tools for early detection, more effective treatment, faster drug discovery, and a cure for glaucoma.

Our third Catalyst for a Cure team began to pursue exciting leads in vision restoration in 2019. The consortium is exploring many promising avenues, from optic nerve regeneration to transplantation to gene manipulation, toward the goal of restoring useful sight to patients who have lost vision to glaucoma.

Why Vision Restoration?

“Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness, affecting tens of millions of people. But right now, we have nothing to restore vision. Glaucoma Research Foundation will change that.”

- Jeffrey L. Goldberg, MD, PhD (CFC Scientific Advisory Board member)

Currently, glaucoma is treated by lowering the pressure in the eye. However, today’s treatments can only preserve remaining vision; they don’t improve or restore vision that already has been lost due to glaucoma.

Glaucoma is a complex disease in which damage to the optic nerve leads to progressive vision loss. The nervous system is divided into the peripheral and the central systems, and the optic nerve is part of the central nervous system. Damaged peripheral nerves, in the arm for example, can regenerate after injury. However, the optic nerve and its axons, as part of the central nervous system, do not regenerate after injury. This is one reason why restoring vision lost due to glaucoma has been a tremendous challenge.

The goals of the CFC Vision Restoration team are:

  • To preserve the optic nerve, independent of eye pressure
  • To repair the optic nerve, independent of eye pressure
  • To rebuild the optic nerve where damage has already resulted in vision loss

Collaborative Research to Find a Cure

At Glaucoma Research Foundation, we have made a serious long-term commitment to collaborative research. Projects are focused on clear goals and useful results. We invest in innovative research to better understand this complex disease and speed the pace of finding a cure for glaucoma. We believe the novel design of the Catalyst for a Cure and the talented scientists it has brought together are our best hope for finding a cure for this devastating disease.

Meet the Principal Investigators

The Steven and Michele Kirsch Catalyst for a Cure Vision Restoration team is making significant progress toward their goal of restoring sight to patients who have lost vision to glaucoma. These are the four principal investigators.


Xin Duan, PhD
Assistant Professor, Department of Ophthalmology and Physiology
Weill Institute for Neurosciences
University of California, San Francisco

Dr. Duan's laboratory investigates retinal ganglion cells subtype-intrinsic factors and tests their roles in optic nerve regeneration and vision recovery.


Yang Hu, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor, Department of Ophthalmology
Stanford University School of Medicine
Stanford, CA

The Hu laboratory focuses on the mechanisms responsible for neuronal degeneration and axon regeneration while maintaining a consistent focus on clinically relevant scenarios and therapies that will translate into effective vision restoration treatments.


Anna La Torre, PhD
Associate Professor, Department of Cell Biology and Human Anatomy
School of Medicine, University of California, Davis
Davis, CA

Dr. La Torre’s laboratory focuses on generating retinal ganglion cells from stem cells to enhance axonal growth and cell survival and ultimately, to use these cells as donor cells for cell replacement therapies and disease modeling.


Derek Welsbie, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, San Diego Shiley Eye Institute
University of California, San Diego
San Diego, CA

The Welsbie lab focuses on identifying genes that are causally involved in retinal ganglion cell death, degeneration, and regeneration, as well as developing new neuroprotective drug therapies for retinal ganglion cells.

Last reviewed on December 07, 2021

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