JDRF, an organization that funds type 1 diabetes (T1D) research, along with The Mary Tyler Moore & S. Robert Levine, MD, Charitable Foundation, are announcing a bold research effort to restore vision in people with T1D. For nearly half a century, JDRF has led the charge against T1D and its complications on a path to a cure, but this initiative represents the first time it has convened multiple disciplines within the research community to address reversing the vision-stealing effects of diabetes-related eye disease.
"Restoring Vision: A JDRF Moonshot Initiative" is bringing together leaders in basic and clinical research from the United States, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom – including innovators in regeneration science and medical technology development – to brainstorm disruptive and paradigm-shifting approaches with the potential to reverse T1D related blindness and low vision. This is the first in a series of JDRF initiatives that will honor the legacy of Mary Tyler Moore, who served as the International Chairman of JDRF from 1984 until her death in 2017 and who was committed to finding a cure for T1D and its complications.
"In the decades Mary worked with JDRF to help relieve the burdens of type 1 diabetes for others, T1D had a devastating impact on her life, stealing her joy and independence due to significant visual loss from diabetes-related eye disease," said S. Robert Levine, MD, Mary's husband, partner in JDRF volunteer leadership and president of The Mary Tyler Moore & S. Robert Levine, MD Charitable Foundation. "This moonshot is about restoring the independence lost by our loved ones due to low vision. Achieving these goals will require a willingness to open doors to new thinking, take risks, marshal diverse resources, create an executable plan and undertake specific actions, together. If we can do this, I am confident we will see Mary's vision of a cure for this diabetes-related complication made real."
The launch coincides with a JDRF workshop that assembled, for the first time, more than 50 global experts in diabetes-related eye diseases and diverse disciplines, including physicians, engineers, cell biologists, technology experts and JDRF Research staff, with the goal of forming a research investment and facilitation plan to be led by JDRF.
"JDRF is excited to lead this first-of-its kind initiative to improve the lives of people affected by diabetes-related vision loss," said Aaron Kowalski, Ph.D., JDRF Chief Mission Officer. "As we search for a cure for T1D, this initiative is assembling leading minds from academia, nonprofit, government, and the pharma and tech industries to lay the foundation for developing a strategy and roadmap toward therapies to restore vision lost in people with diabetes."
Eye disease in people with diabetes, including diabetic retinopathy, is the leading cause of blindness in working age adults. While many scientific breakthroughs have focused on new treatments and prevention, more research is needed to determine how vision can be restored in individuals with significant visual loss or blindness due to retinopathy and its treatment with laser photocoagulation therapy. Currently, 35 percent of people with T1D develop eye disease, but no treatment exists to reverse the clinical effects, and most research to date has been primarily focused on preventive therapies for early intervention.
As part of the kickoff, JDRF is exploring potential avenues for and obstacles to research and development with dozens of leading scientists, academic institutions, government, NGO and commercial partners – as well as opening the door to potential funding partners. Goals include delineating key factors that lead to visual loss in T1D, acknowledging the limits of current diagnostics and treatments, analyzing the landscape of current state-of-the-art approaches in development to restore vision, learning from next-generational approaches in development in other disease areas, identifying new approaches with potential to reverse diabetes-related eye disease from advanced stages, and generating a prioritized list of approaches based on potential impact and feasibility.
"When you ask patients with diabetes what they fear the most, it's losing their vision," said Thomas Gardner, MD, chair of JDRF's Restoring Vision workshop and professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the University of Michigan Medical School. "More research is imperative to fill treatment gaps and fundamentally understand why diabetes affects vision loss and how we can reverse it."
Participants in the JDRF-led workshop include:
- Wei Liu, Assistant Professor, Albert Einstein College of Medicine
- Tom Bollenbach, Chief Technology Officer, Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute (ARMI)
- Katrina Norfleet, Director of Communications, Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO)
- Timothy Kern, Professor, Case Western Reserve University
- Stephen Rose, Chief Research Officer, Foundation Fighting Blindness
- Peter Loskill, Assistant Professor, Eberhard Karls University Tübingen and Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology
- Jason Ehrlich, Global Head, Clinical Ophthalmology Product Development, Genentech/Roche
- Lily Peng, Product Manager, Google Research
- Joseph Boneventre, Chief, Renal Division, Harvard Institute of Medicine
- Lloyd Paul Aiello, Professor of Ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School and Director, Beetham Eye Institute, Joslin Diabetes Center
- Jennifer Sun, Associate Professor of Ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School and Ophthalmologist, Beetham Eye Institute, Joslin Diabetes Center
- Bhavna Antony, Research Scientist, IBM Research
- Eileen Koski, Program Director, Health Data & Insights, IBM Research
- Ashwani Malhotra, Research Business Alliances Executive, IBM Research
- Roy Beck, M.D., Ph.D., Executive Director, Jaeb Center for Health Research
- Adam Glassman, Coordinating Center Director, Jaeb Center for Health Research
- Elia Duh, Professor of Ophthalmology, Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
- Leonard Levin, Professor and Chair, Department of Ophthalmology, McGill University
- Steven Becker, Audacious Goals Initiative Program Coordinator, National Eye Institute (NEI), National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- Kapil Bharti, Tenure-Track Investigator, National Eye Institute (NEI), National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- Emily Chew, Director, Division of Epidemiology and Clinical Applications, National Eye Institute (NEI), National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- Paul Sieving, Director, National Eye Institute (NEI), National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- Bjarki Johannesson, Ph.D., Investigator, New York Stem Cell Foundation Research Institute
- Elizabeth Schwarzbach, Ph.D., Vice President, Business Development, New York Stem Cell Foundation Research Institute
- Dhanuraj Shetty, Senior Director, Strategic Alliances and Partnership, New York Stem Cell Foundation Research Institute
- Susan L. Solomon, JD, CEO, New York Stem Cell Foundation Research Institute Lisa Strovink, Chief Strategy Officer, New York Stem Cell Foundation Research Institute
- Richard Kirk, Chief Executive, PolyPhotonix
- Patrick McCrosson, Patient Advocacy, PolyPhotonix
- Brian Hofland, Ph.D., President, Research to Prevent Blindness
- Chandan Sen, Professor and Vice Chairman (Research), Department of Surgery, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
- Brent Toto, Program Director, Center for Regenerative Medicine and Cell Based Therapies, The Ohio State University College of Medicine
- Robin Ali, Professor, University College London & University of Michigan
- Pete Coffey, Professor, University College London, University of California, Santa Barbara
- Mark Atkinson, American Diabetes Association Eminent Scholar, Director, University of Florida Diabetes Institute
- Michael Abramoff, MD, Ph.D., Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, University of Iowa and IDx LLC
- Erin Lavik, Professor, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
- Daniel Pelaez, Assistant Research Professor of Ophthalmology and Biomedical Engineering, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine
- David Antonetti, Professor, Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, University of Michigan
- James Weiland, Professor Biomedical Engineering and Ophthalmology, University of Michigan
- Thomas Gardner, Professor, Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, University of Michigan Medical School
- William Murphy, Professor, Biomedical Engineering, University of Wisconsin
- David Gamm, Director, McPherson Eye Research Institute, Associate Professor, University of Wisconsin, School of Medicine and Public Health
- Dimitri Azar, Director, Verily and University of Illinois College of Medicine
- Pete DiStefano, Chief Scientific Officer, Zebra Biologics Inc.
- Ron Lindsay, CEO, Zebra Biologics Inc.