UF receives funding for research into blinding diseases

Research to Prevent Blindness, or RPB, awarded $110,000 to the University of Florida College of Medicine’s department of ophthalmology to support research into the causes, treatment and prevention of blinding diseases.

RPB, which is the leading voluntary health organization promoting this type of research, has supported the UF College of Medicine for more than 30 years with grants totaling more than $3.5 million.

“It’s heartening to know that there’s an organization that wants to make sure that vision is preserved and that people who could be at risk for blindness have help, and as a department we appreciate their confidence in us,” said William T. Driebe Jr., M.D., chair of UF department of ophthalmology. “The length of support will tell you that this is a department with longstanding interest and performance in vision research and ways to help people preserve their sight.”

An unrestricted grant allows the chair to use the funding for broadly based support of the research activity in the department, meaning the funding does not have to be used for just one specific area. Driebe said he uses the money to help veteran researchers continue their investigations when they are between funding and to help the department’s young researchers get started.

“It provides us with more support, and if you understand how investigators are funded, there are often gaps. Sometimes between grants there might be a little hiatus and this helps me keep their research productive and healthy,” he said. “It can act as seed money. It’s very helpful to be able to use this money to help researchers who need additional support, and particularly for researchers just getting started.”

The funding from RPB helps support a major research focus of the department: the use of gene therapy to treat retinal degenerations.

“We are looking for gene therapy to correct retinal degenerations with the hopes of improving vision in people that are suffering from these diseases,” Driebe said. “We just completed a national clinical translational trial using gene therapy to treat one form of retinal degeneration, and it was really quite successful.”

Driebe said he views the grant award as recognition of the department’s accomplishments and as a way to do even more.

“What they’re looking for is institutions that have good accomplishments in research. The department is recognized as being very active and successful in research, and RPB chooses to support us,” he said. “This type of support keeps this type of research moving forward. You can’t do the research without funding.”