Health

A new grant will support research by the University of Louisville Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences.

Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) has awarded $115,000 to the department. RPB is an organization dedicated to supporting research to develop treatments, preventives and cures for all conditions that damage and destroy sight.

Dr. Hank Kaplan, chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, said the funding will give him the opportunity to identify ideas that may have new implications in the area of eye health.

“As our population gets older and older, the incidence of blinding complications will just continue to increase,” he said.

The National Federation of the Blind estimates that in 2012, 128,200 people in Kentucky had a visual disability.

Dr. Kaplan said blindness has both emotional and economic impacts.

“If a person is visually impaired, their ability to work is hindered. Additionally, it places a greater burden on the family in order to be able to support them,” he said.

The funding from RPB will be used to look at stem cell therapy for age-related macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of blindness in Americans 60 and older. It is a disease that destroys the sharp, central vision needed to see objects clearly.

The money will also be used to study gene therapy in hereditary retinal degeneration. The department will collaborate with other universities to inject genes into damaged eye cells in hopes of restoring normal function.

RPB has helped fund numerous research projects by the university and has donated nearly $4 million to the department over the past 50 years.