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Low Vision Research Awardees Announced by Research to Prevent Blindness

New York, New York – Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB), in partnership with the Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) and Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation (RDPFS), has announced the first grantees in its $1.2 million, two-pronged research initiative to address urgent needs in understanding and treating low vision. Separate awards will fund researchers working on ways to improve the brain’s ability to take information from a compromised visual system and create vision, and on technology solutions to make daily tasks easier for those with vision loss.

The recipient of the first RPB/Lions Clubs International Foundation, $300,000 Low Vision Research Award, which targets how the brain adapts to degraded visual input, is Lotfi B. Merabet, OD, PhD, MPH, Department of Ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School / MEEI, who will combine behavioral and neuroimaging approaches to characterize inadequate brain development in an under-studied population of children with cortical visual impairment.  Dr. Merabet is a clinician-neuroscientist with over 20 years’ experience specializing in the investigation of neuroplasticity associated with adaptation to visual impairment and blindness.

“We are excited and pleased to establish this basic research partnership with RPB, an organization with whom we joined forces in the 1960s to help create the National Eye Institute,” said Rebecca Daou, Executive Administrator, LCIF. “Dr. Merabet’s project will hopefully be informative in developing new rehabilitation options for patients with cortical visual impairment, a leading cause of pediatric low vision.”

The first RPB/Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation Innovations in Technology Low Vision Research Award, of $100,000, will go to Roberto Manduchi, PhD, Department of Computer Engineering, University of California, Santa Cruz.  Dr. Manduchi is developing an economical and easy-to-use low vision screen magnifier that will enable scrolling control by means of the viewer’s own gaze, rather than by using a mouse or trackpad.  The award supports solutions for persons with remaining functional vision rather than those who are totally blind, with a focus on mobile and/or wearable innovations that can be implemented on multiple platforms, such as electronic tablets or phones.

“Dr. Manduchi is tackling an extremely important problem for those with low vision: frequent losses of place on highly magnified views of the screen,” said Susan Olivo, Executive Director, RDPFS. “This is the kind of new solution to a widely experienced problem that we hoped would emerge from our partnership with RPB.”

“Our aim is to provide seed money for innovative thinking, and our funding partners share the same objectives,” said Brian F. Hofland, PhD, President, RPB. “These awards are explicitly for untested approaches to these issues, for projects that have not been funded before.  By encouraging scientists to take chances, we intend to increase the likelihood of break-through discoveries.”

According to Hofland, RPB’s Low Vision Initiative emerged from internal discussions on underserved areas of vision research and how the organization might address those needs: “We are hoping to shine a spotlight on and increase attention to low vision issues and to make a difference for millions of people whose quality of life is significantly and negatively impacted by this often neglected condition.”

Both Low Vision Awards will be offered in 2016 and again in 2017.  For more information on these and other vision research awards offered by RPB, click here.  Or contact Pattie Moran, RPB Grants Administrator, at (212) 752 4333 or pmoran@rpbusa.org.

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About Low Vision
Low vision refers to chronic impairment that is not correctable by eyeglasses, medicines, or surgery.  Many eye disorders can lead to low vision, including age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.  Injury to the eye or to a portion of the brain involved in sight can also produce low vision. Low vision significantly and negatively impacts a person’s visual activities of daily living and quality of life.  The National Eye Institute estimated that 3 million U.S. persons suffered low vision in 2010 with projections that this number would increase to nearly 5 million in 2030 and 9 million in 2050.

About Research to Prevent Blindness
RPB’s mission is to preserve and restore vision by supporting research to develop treatments, preventives and cures for all conditions that damage and destroy sight.  Since 1960, RPB has committed hundreds of millions of dollars to the pursuit of this objective. As a result, RPB researchers have been associated with nearly every major breakthrough in the understanding and treatment of the loss of vision across the past 55 years.  Today, RPB provides major eye research funding to more than 40 leading scientific institutions in the U.S. and supports the work of hundreds of talented vision scientists engaged in a diverse range of eye disease-oriented research.  For information on RPB, RPB-funded research, eye disorders and the RPB Grants Program, go to www.rpbusa.org.

About Lions Clubs International Foundation
Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) works to fulfill its mission: To support the efforts of Lions clubs and partners in serving communities locally and globally, giving hope and impacting lives through humanitarian service projects and grants.  Since its founding in 1968, LCIF has striven to sustain Lions’ humanitarian service goals throughout the world, awarding over 12,000 grants totaling more than US$900 million, in the four key areas of sight, youth, disaster relief and other humanitarian efforts. In the area of sight, LCIF provides vision for those in need all over the world by combating eye diseases, creating infrastructure to improve eye care delivery, increasing the number of trained eye care professionals and making vision care more equitable and sustainable.  www.lcif.org

About Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation
Partners for Sight (PFS) is dedicated to increasing   the self-reliance, independence and dignity of blind and visually impaired persons.  Since 1955, PFS has been a vital source of support on local, regional and national levels, believing that blind and visually impaired persons should have the tools and resources necessary to lead independent, productive lives. With an emphasis on connecting people in need with resources and services, the Foundation has provided new technology, new opportunity and new hope for hundreds of thousands of people across the United States.  To learn more about PFS, go to: http://partnersforsight.org/

Contact:   

Matthew Levine
(212) 752-4333; 1-800-621-0026
E-mail: mlevine@rpbusa.org
www.rpbusa.org