The Department of Ophthalmology has received a Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) Challenge Grant to support investigators advancing the field of ophthalmology and vision science and its researchers have been using the grant to drive innovation.
The Challenge Grant can be used at the discretion of the department chair to support priority initiatives and collaborations. At Northwestern, the grant provides Jeremy Lavine, MD, PhD, assistant professor of Ophthalmology, and Benjamin Thomson, PhD, assistant professor of Ophthalmology, with support to pursue their research and obtain imaging technology to further the science. Lavine also recently received an RPB Sybil B. Harrington Award Career Developmental Award for Macular Degeneration.
The RPB grant will provide Lavine with support for an optical coherence tomography (OCT) device, which he previously used to image mouse eyes. In a study published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation, Lavine found vitroretinal interface macrophages include microglia, perivascular macrophage and vitreal hyalocytes at steady-state. During inflammation, neutrophils, monocytes and monocyte-derived macrophages were also found at the vitreoretinal interface. Those findings suggest that increased macrophage-like cells in diabetic retinopathy could be an inflammatory biomarker.
“OCT imaging of mouse eyes was critical to bridge the gap between OCT-based macrophage-like cell imaging in patients and determining identity of vitreoretinal interface macrophages in mice,” Lavine said.
Due to the grant funding, the department was able to purchase a Heidelberg Spectralis imaging system, like those used in the clinic, exclusively for research use, Thomson said.
“Imaging tools that allow ophthalmologists to see into the eye are central to clinical practice and directly inform our understanding of eye disease,” Thomson said. “By using the same tools in the same way, our lab is now able to directly compare our research models with findings from patients, providing a critical link between our work in the lab and real-world patient care.”
In 2016, RPB also provided an unrestricted grant to support the department’s research into retinal physiology, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, corneal diseases, uveitis and glaucoma.
Nicholas J. Volpe, MD, chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and George and Edwina Tarry Professor, said RPB’s unrestricted support of the department is a powerful tool to fuel the academic mission and research priorities.
“We can use these discretionary resources to fund novel collaborations, new ideas and to provide critical support to our clinical and laboratory investigators working on a wide range of topics,” Volpe said. “This empowers us to do our share of work to prevent blindness.”
RPB is the world’s leading voluntary organization supporting eye research. To date, the organization has awarded grants totaling more than $3.8 million to Feinberg and more than $400 million in total research funding.