Mass. Eye and Ear, Boston Children’s Hospital researchers receive Research to Prevent Blindness grant awards

July 18, 2017
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Suzanne Day
Media Relations Manager, Mass. Eye and Ear
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Boston, Mass. — Two vision researchers from the Harvard Medical School Department of Ophthalmology have received awards from Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB), the world’s leading voluntary organization supporting eye research. Gang Luo, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School and Associate Scientist at Schepens Eye Research Institute of Massachusetts Eye and Ear, has received the 2017 Innovations in Technology Low Vision Research Award, and Jing Chen, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School and a Research Associate at Boston Children’s Hospital, has received a 2017 Special Scholars Award.

Gang Luo, Ph.D., Innovations in Technology Low Vision Research Award
Through the Innovations in Technology Low Vision Research Award from Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB)/Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation/Consumer Technology Association Foundation, Dr. Luo will receive $100,000 over 2 years to support the development of a new vision assistance smartphone app to help the blind navigate their surroundings. Dr. Luo is a research scientist experienced in optics, image processing and biomedical engineering. He devotes much of his effort to developing and evaluating assistive technologies for visually impaired individuals. This will be the third vision assistance app developed by Dr. Luo’s laboratory. More than 320,000 people around the world have downloaded his apps.

“In this digital era Dr. Luo’s innovative work helps level the playing field for people with low vision who live in a vision-dominated world,” said Joan W. Miller, M.D., David Glendenning Cogan Professor and Chair of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, and Chief of Ophthalmology at Mass. Eye and Ear and Massachusetts General Hospital. “These tools and technologies improve quality of life by enabling people with low vision to live more independently.”

Jing Chen, Ph.D., Special Scholars Award
As a Special Scholars Award recipient, Dr. Chen will receive $25,000 of support over two years to develop a novel genetic mouse model of dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

A leading cause of blindness worldwide, AMD affects the macula, the part of retina for fine color vision, in two forms – dry (atrophic) and wet (neovascular). The dry form of AMD is more common, affecting 80-90 percent of AMD patients, and is characterized by slow deterioration of vision preceded by the presence of small, yellowish lipid deposits under the retina, called drusen. In 10-20 percent of people, dry AMD progresses to wet, or neovascular, AMD, with growth of abnormal blood vessels underneath the retina that leak fluid or blood, which may result in relatively sudden loss of vision. While anti-VEGF medications can help slow the progression of wet AMD, there is currently no effective treatment for the more prevalent dry form. Dr. Chen’s project will help researchers learn more about how dry AMD develops. With this understanding, vision researchers can work to improve the early diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of AMD.

“This well-deserved award provides an important boost to Dr. Chen’s current research, which promises to provide insight into new therapies for dry AMD,” said David Hunter, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School and the Richard M. Robb Chair of Ophthalmology and Ophthalmologist-in-Chief at Boston Children’s Hospital.

About Research to Prevent Blindness
RPB is the world’s leading voluntary organization supporting eye research. Since it was founded in 1960, RPB has channeled hundreds of millions of dollars to medical institutions for research into the causes, treatment and prevention of blinding eye diseases. For more information on RPB, RPB-funded research, eye disorders and the RPB Grants Program, go to www.rpbusa.org.

About Massachusetts Eye and Ear
Mass. Eye and Ear clinicians and scientists are driven by a mission to find cures for blindness, deafness and diseases of the head and neck. Now united with Schepens Eye Research Institute, Mass. Eye and Ear is the world's largest vision and hearing research center, developing new treatments and cures through discovery and innovation. Mass. Eye and Ear is a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital and trains future medical leaders in ophthalmology and otolaryngology, through residency as well as clinical and research fellowships. Internationally acclaimed since its founding in 1824, Mass. Eye and Ear employs full-time, board-certified physicians who offer high-quality and affordable specialty care that ranges from the routine to the very complex. In the 2016–2017 “Best Hospitals Survey,” U.S. News & World Report ranked Mass. Eye and Ear #1 in the nation for ear, nose and throat care and #1 in New England for eye care. For more information about life-changing care and research, or to learn how you can help, please visit MassEyeAndEar.org.

About Boston Children’s Hospital
Boston Children’s Hospital, the primary pediatric teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School, is home to the world’s largest research enterprise based at a pediatric medical center. Its discoveries have benefited both children and adults since 1869. Today, more than 2,630 scientists, including nine members of the National Academy of Sciences, 14 members of the National Academy of Medicine and 11 Howard Hughes Medical Investigators comprise Boston Children’s research community. Founded as a 20-bed hospital for children, Boston Children’s is now a 415-bed comprehensive center for pediatric and adolescent health care. For more, visit our Vector and Thriving blogs and follow us on social media @BostonChildrens, @BCH_InnovationFacebook and YouTube.

About the Harvard Medical School Department of Ophthalmology
The Harvard Medical School (HMS) Department of Ophthalmology (eye.hms.harvard.edu) is one of the leading and largest academic departments of ophthalmology in the nation. More than 350 full-time faculty and trainees work at nine HMS affiliate institutions, including Massachusetts Eye and Ear, Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Joslin Diabetes Center/Beetham Eye Institute, Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System, VA Maine Healthcare System, and Cambridge Health Alliance. Formally established in 1871, the department has been built upon a strong and rich foundation in medical education, research, and clinical care. Through the years, faculty and alumni have profoundly influenced ophthalmic science, medicine, and literature—helping to transform the field of ophthalmology from a branch of surgery into an independent medical specialty at the forefront of science.