The Detroit-based Gilbert Family Foundation, a private foundation established by Jennifer and Dan Gilbert, has established the Vision Restoration Initiative, the foundation’s second research project to accelerate the development of therapies for neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1).
NF1 causes tumors to grow on the optic nerves connecting the eyes to the brain in an estimated 20 percent of patients, causing many of them to lose their sight. In an effort to reverse this vision loss, the foundation will allocate more than $11 million in research grants to develop innovative therapies that either repair or replace the damaged optic nerves.
“We recognized the importance of connecting top researchers from across the country to work collaboratively in finding a cure for NF1,” says Dan Gilbert, co-founder of the Gilbert Family Foundation and founder and chairman of Quicken Loans Inc. “Under this newest initiative, the foundation is providing funds, and more importantly, a platform to bring together scientific leaders and their multidisciplinary expertise. We are invested in bringing some of the brightest minds together with the kinds of talent and capital that is needed to beat the devastating effects of neurofibromatosis.”
The foundation has assembled a “dream team” of 12 ophthalmology, neuroscience, and NF1 experts nine hospitals and organizations from across the United States, including Daniel Goldman, the Bernard W. Agranoff Collegiate Professor, Neuroscience Professor, Biological Chemistry and Research Professor, Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute at the University of Michigan School of Medicine.
“The Gilbert family has put this team together with the goal of discovering and optimizing therapeutic candidates for vision protection and restoration, and to translate these to patients with NF1 and optic tumors,” says Dr. Jeffrey Goldberg, professor and chair of ophthalmology at the Byers Eye Institute at Stanford University in California.
Dr. David H. Gutmann, director, Washington University NF Center and the Donald O. Schnuck Family Professor of Neurology at the Washington University in St. Louis, says, “The ability to work with some of the finest scientists in the world and collectively focus our energies on vision protection represents an unprecedented opportunity to find new treatments for individuals with NF1 optic gliomas.”
The team will focus on developing three types of products:
Neuroprotection/neuroenhancement therapy: Designed to prevent further vision loss in NF1 patients with mild vision loss. Researchers will work to develop therapies that protect the optic nerve from further damage, while boosting its vitality and performance.
Exogenous cell replacement therapy: Aimed at returning sight to NF1 patients with significant vision loss. Researchers will work to generate new, healthy cells for transplantation into patients’ eyes. These transplanted cells then could regenerate the optic nerve.
Endogenous cell replacement therapy: Also aimed at returning sight to NF1 patients with significant vision loss. However, instead of generating new cells for transplantation, researchers will work to develop therapies that stimulate the patient’s eyes to generate new cells that would regenerate the optic nerve.