Blindness is second only to cancer when it comes to health conditions people fear most, according to a Gallup poll.
So it may come as a surprise that funding for eye research was practically nonexistent until the organization Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) was founded in 1960. Before that,ophthalmology was a second-tier medical specialty in the United States. Eye care was relegated to the division of surgery in most medical schools, and few basic scientists conducted research on eyes and vision.
Since it was established, RPB has been a major force in ophthalmologic research, donating more than $260 million for research into the causes, treatment, and prevention of all diseases that cause blindness. It currently supports more than 50 ophthalmology departments throughout the country, including the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Department of Ophthalmology.
Since 1997, RPB has given a total of $970,000 to the department.
“Unlike the project-specific grants from most organizations, RPB grants are unrestricted, which allows departmental chairs to use the money at their discretion,” says Matthew Levine, director of communications and marketing for the organization. “As a result, the funds are often used in creative and flexible ways to meet critical needs.”
Over the years—thanks to funding from RPB—the department has contributed to significant advances in ophthalmology, such as finding better ways to treat disabling facial spastic disorders and improved treatment for eye injuries caused by chemicals.
RPB support also has allowed the department to participate in important multicenter studies investigating corneal transplantation and alternative therapies to patching in children with amblyopia, sometimes referred to as “lazy eye.”
“Research to Prevent Blindness provides significant funding for our individual research projects and has enabled our department to have a very sizeable basic science and clinical research program,” says the University’s Department of Ophthalmology chair, Jay Krachmer, M.D. “The organization is one of the backbones of our department.”