MESSAGE FROM THE CEO Enjoying the Ride
William T. Schmidt
Chief Executive Officer
Foundation Fighting Blindness
Ten Years and Counting
VisionWalk, the Foundation’s signature 5K event, has reached its 10th year
and resulted in close to $40 million and thousands of participants.
ORLANDO,NorthernVirginia, theTriangleregionofNorth Carolina,ChicagoandOrange
County. Ten years ago, those were the
Foundation Fighting Blindness’ first
VisionWalks. They were launched with the
idea that each region of the country could
tap into a wellspring of fundraising dollars.
The goal, that first season, was $250,000
total. But 1,800 participants on 169 teams
more than doubled it, raising $520,000.
This season, two more walks—Cincin-
nati/Northern Kentucky and Colorado—
will celebrate their 10th years. But more
toire. It’s also something of its own culture.
If you’ve never experienced a
VisionWalk, it’s not just a 5K jaunt, but
a full-fledged event. Musical acts, face-painting, team mascots, local cuisine and
picturesque settings are just a few of the
add-ons. Not to mention the camaraderie
among walkers, many affected by retinal
diseases, and the teams with which
they’re associated—all striving to top the
previous year’s take.
For more information, check out www.
VisionWalk.org. A brand-new VisionWalk
video, at www.blindness.org/VWJoinUs,
also captures the program’s spirit.
And please keep this in mind—every
p taken during a VisionWalk is a step
A PUBLICATION FOR MEMBERS OF THE FOUNDATION FIGHTING BLINDNESS
❮ QUOTABLE ❯
“To figure out the
cures and ways of
you have to surround
yourself not only
with the smartest
people, but people
In Focus, Winter 2012
Pg. 2 | Researcher Profile:
Dr. Radha Ayyagari
Dr. Radha Ayyagari
AGE;RELATED macular degeneration, or AMD, is an Everest-like challenge.
If affects 10 million people in the
United States and is the number-one cause of blindness in those
55 and older. Which means that
aging Baby Boomers, especially, are
Complicating the issue is the
fact that there are two kinds—wet
and dry AMD. The wet form,
caused by blood-vessel leakage, is
treatable. But the dry form, as Dr.
Radha Ayyagari, a retinal researcher
says, “causes something called RPE
atrophy. RPE are retinal pigment
epithelium, a thin layer of cells
that act as a support system for
photoreceptors, the cells that enable
us to see. If RPE are not normal,
results in vision loss.”
In particular, central vision loss,
as AMD affects the macula, or
center, of the retina. And 90 percent
of AMD cases are caused by the dry
Fortunately, dry AMD is now
the focus of many researchers,
including those supported by FFB.
The latest round of grants approved
by its Scientific Advisory Board
(SAB) are funding ;ve projects
targeting macular degeneration,
one spearheaded by Dr. Ayyagari, a
longtime Foundation associate who
has her own lab at the University of
California, San Diego.
She recently described that project and discussed FFB’s pivotal role
in retinal research.
Please explain your macular
We’ve been studying patients since
the late ’90s, including one family
that’s had central-vision problems
for generations. They’re not
diagnosed with AMD, but, by their
sixties, they’re showing symptoms
for both wet and dry AMD.
in her lab at
UC San Diego
THIS IS, INDEED, AN EXCITING TIME.
Those who’ve been at the center of retinal
research for at least a decade are witnessing what
was once unimaginable. Back in 2005, when
I began with the Foundation, the big news
was that a gene therapy for Leber congenital
amaurosis that had worked in pre-clinical
testing was being prepared for launch.
Today, as that trial winds down—with