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Donors as partners

With the aging population, research into macular degeneration and other diseases of the retina has never been more important.With that in mind, Timothy Olsen, M.D., formed a directors group to help further such research.

Timothy Olsen, M.D.

A few times a year, Olsen meets with about a dozen individuals in the retinal service directors group to discuss his research and to enlist their help with Fundraising and development.

Research is an expensive endeavor, so the first thing any research project needs is funding. “Once funding for a project is in place, we can concentrate on the science,” says Olsen, an associate professor and director of retina and the Minnesota Lions Macular Degeneration Center.

“The individuals in this group offer significant financial support and also provide guidance and insight when we are seeking funding for new, innovative projects,” says Olsen, who holds the William H. Knobloch Retina Chair. “They don’t consult on the science, but they’re very helpful when it comes to strategy. Many of them are business people who also happen to be involved in philanthropic efforts. And they take a personal interest in these research projects. Each of them has a connection because of a personal vision problem or a family member with a vision problem.”

Group member DeWalt (Pete) Ankeny Jr. has a special interest in eye research because both he and his father have had surgery for detached retinas. Ankeny says he was drawn to Olsen’s practical approach to treating macular degeneration. “It involves developing techniques and methods to treat patients who already have macular degeneration as well as finding ways to prevent it,” he says. “It’s not just laboratory research.”

David Delaney became involved in the retinal service directors group after being referred to Olsen for macular degeneration treatment a few years ago. “With the aging population, the need for this kind of research is huge,” Delaney says. “I was impressed with Dr. Olsen the first time I met him, and I continue to be impressed. He is intelligent, extremely competent, and so straightforward.”

John Haugo, another member of the group, lost an eye in a childhood accident. As an adult he had laser surgery to repair a torn retina in the other eye, the same eye Olsen is currently treating for iris cysts. “Supporting innovative research that allows physicians and scientists to go above and beyond the norm is very exciting,” says Haugo, “and that’s often when the breakthroughs happen.”

While Olsen’s research primarily involves new ways to treat macular degeneration, there may be broader implications regarding retinal disease. “If we find a drug that helps slow the disease process for macular degeneration, it might also be helpful for treating other retinal diseases,” he says.

Olsen notes that most people, even if they don’t have a vision problem personally, truly appreciate being able to see in their day-to-day lives. “And when they think about ways to contribute meaningfully,” he says, “they think about vision as an area in which they can make a difference.”

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