Today’s vision scientists face many funding challenges making it imperative that all support options are available to them. Similarly, in order to ensure continued funding for young scientists who are developing their independent research projects, the IRRF must maximize every dollar. The formation of partnerships and collaborations with outstanding institutions has made it possible to accomplish this while producing a collective impact. Since 2013, New York-based Fight For Sight (FFS) and the IRRF have combined resources to provide an annual funding award: FFS – The International Retinal Research Foundation Grant-in-Aid Award that is offered and administered by FFS.
2017 — John T. Pena, MD, PhD, Weill Cornell Medical College for his work in diabetic retinopathy.
Grant Title: Human ocular fluid contains an intercellular communication system of endogenous exosomes
Summary: The vitreous humor of the eye is a clear gel-like structure comprised of collagen and water and fills the back of the eye.
Traditional thinking has been that the vitreous is biologically inactive. Dr. Pena’s study showed a dense organized network of extracellular vesicles (EVs) in the human vitreous. However, attempts to image vitreous EVs in whole mount or tissue sections resulted in no evidence of EVs. Yet, electron microscope (EM) studies and nano-particle tracking analysis proved that millions of EVs exist in the vitreous. To solve this discrepancy and visualize the native anatomy of vitreous EVs a hypothesis emerged that the nanometer sized EVs were lost during tissue processing secondary to reversible formalin-fixation. Therefore, this team developed an innovative fixation technique to enable visualization of vitreous EVs in situ. In addition to identifying the vitreous EVs, it was proven that vitreous EVs are a highly potent vector that can be loaded with synthetic siRNAs or proteins, and subsequently transfects retinal cells in vitro and in vivo. The team has shown that vitreous EVs can be used as a vector to efficaciously deliver therapeutic recombinant proteins to tissues like the retina and choroid.
Current and Future Academic Plans: Dr. Pena’s academic plans are to continue to grow and become a productive physician-scientist. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology at Weill Cornell Medicine and Principal Investigator of the laboratory. Dr. Pena plans to use his training from the clinic and basic sciences to ask pertinent questions that remain a challenge in vision research. He hopes to provide straightforward solutions that can be translated to benefit his patients and will take the next few years as an opportunity to develop strong academic relationships with his mentors and students.
2018 — Jordan Greco, PhD, University of Connecticut, for his work in the characterization of an ion-mediated protein-based retinal implant.
Dr. Greco obtained his PhD in physical chemistry at the University of Connecticut in 2015. Under the mentorship of Dr. Robert Birge, Dr. Greco’s graduate thesis work primarily involved the investigation of the structure and function of photoactive proteins, using both spectroscopic and quantum mechanical approaches. Much of his work has contributed towards the application of the protein bacteriorhodopsin into photonic and biomimetic devices, such as protein-based optical memories and processors, photovoltaic cells, and the retinal implant developed by LambdaVision, Inc. Concurrent with his work on bacteriorhodopsin, Dr. Greco has contributed to numerous computational analyses for the excited state of behavior of heterocyclic conjugated compounds, (e.g., porphyrin, chlorins, and corroles), carotenoids (e.g., peridinin), and other polyene-based chromophores rooted in biological systems. Dr. Greco has presented this work to international audiences and he continues to remain active in the field via several multidisciplinary collaborations. (Reprinted from Crunchbase: www.crunchbase.com/person/jordan-greco)