Catalyst For a Cure

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CFC Principal Investigators
CFC Principal Investigators

Catalyst For a Cure (CFC) is a major collaborative research effort redefining how glaucoma research is conducted. This unique research model is focused on one clear objective: a cure for glaucoma.

The CFC was formed in 2002 by convening four investigative groups chosen by the Glaucoma Research Foundation’s CFC Scientific Advisory Board for their particular expertise in neurobiology, ophthalmology and developmental genetics. Each group forms a nucleus whose purpose is to facilitate the rapid and efficient development of technologies pertinent to understanding the causes of glaucoma and identifying potential new treatments. By design, each member of this team shares research results and collaborates on all CFC projects.

Catalyst For a Cure breaks with the traditional approach to medical research. Typically, individual scientists work on separate projects and share the advances they make only at conferences and in publications. Scientists in the same field compete for grant money to fund their work. CFC researchers, however, are engaged in a full, ongoing partnership. They spend time together in each other’s labs, collaborate online, and share results as they move ahead.

Results-oriented Research

Our funding of the Catalyst For a Cure (CFC) and its innovative collaborative approach to research has changed the conventional understanding of glaucoma from an eye disease to a neurodegenerative brain disease.

Research has yielded promising results on two fronts: preventing vision loss from late stage glaucoma, and therapeutic treatment to stop glaucoma before it starts. For example, two papers from the CFC published in the Journal of Neuroscience have uncovered important findings:

  • In the early stages of glaucoma, there is a failure of transport of important scaffolding material, nutrients and individual fibers in the optic nerve. This shows up first not in the eye, but in the visual centers of the brain — and coincides with a build-up of oxidative stress and a slowing down of tiny energy batteries in the nerves known as mitochondria.
  • While this is occurring, the connections in the retina that begin the transfer of visual information are targeted for removal, which is affected by specialized sentinels in the retina called microglia. In the early stages of glaucoma, microglia scan the retina for signs of damaged connections and mark those connections for removal by the immune system, leading to vision loss.

The CFC researchers continue to chase down the mechanisms underlying transport loss, oxidative stress, and loss of connections so they can be targeted through new therapeutic interventions.

Investing in Research to Find a Cure

At Glaucoma Research Foundation, we have made a serious long-term commitment to this research. The level of funding for the Catalyst For a Cure is significant, at the level of a government grant. The project is structured with an investing mindset, focused on clear goals and useful results. In 2010, we invested over $1 million in Catalyst For a Cure.

The Catalyst For a Cure researchers use state of the art tools, including genetic mapping information and microarray technology, to learn more about how glaucoma progresses to actual vision loss. They have found, for example, that changes to the nervous system in the eye and the brain occur earlier than the disease appears, probably even as the eye is developing.

Their goal is to identify exactly what to target in the disease pathway with new drug or genetic therapies and exactly when in the disease process (possibly before the process even begins) the therapies would be most effective.

The implications for treatment of glaucoma and other degenerative diseases are vast. This is why we are fully committed to the project. We believe the innovative design of the Catalyst For a Cure and the talented scientists it has brought together are our best hope for finding a cure for this devastating disease.

The Catalyst For a Cure Principal Investigators


David J. Calkins, PhD
Director of Research and Associate Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences
Vanderbilt Eye Institute, Nashville, Tennessee

The Calkins lab focuses on the mechanisms of neurodegeneration in glaucoma. Using systems, cellular and molecular approaches, they investigate how risk factors contribute to neurodegeneration and test new treatments. Dr. Calkins specializes in molecular mechanisms of the retina and optic nerve.


Philip J. Horner, PhD
Associate Professor, Department of Neurological Surgery
Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine
University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

The Horner lab is focused on neurodegeneration and neural regeneration in models of glaucoma and spinal cord injury. The lab established and maintains a reliable glaucoma model to study and test hypotheses. Dr. Horner’s experience in spinal cord injury and glial cells has been applied to glaucoma leading to new findings on the role of gliosis and oxidative stress in glaucoma.


Nicholas Marsh-Armstrong, PhD
Assistant Professor, Departments of Ophthalmology and Neuroscience
Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
Kennedy Krieger Institute, Baltimore, Maryland

The Marsh-Armstrong laboratory studies molecular mechanisms involved in gene regulation, development and disease of the central nervous system, focusing principally on the retina. Marsh-Armstrong has identified gamma-synuclein aggregates in glaucoma in the CFC model of glaucoma ¬— an important finding relating glaucoma to other neurodegenerative diseases.


Monica L. Vetter, PhD
Neurobiology and Anatomy Department Chair
George and Lorna Winder Professor of Neuroscience
University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah

The Vetter lab is studying glaucoma at the molecular level to understand how genetics influence and determine the fate of neurons in the retina and central nervous system. Their goal is to reveal principles governing cell biology that will lead to new disease treatments. Dr. Vetter is committed to better understanding the role of microglia in retinal ganglion cell pathology in glaucoma.

Last reviewed on April 05, 2011

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