Centers of Excellence - Palm Beach Daily News

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Schepens Eye Research Institute 'centers of excellence' aim to speed discoveries, treatments


Daily News Staff Writer

Monday, March 30, 2009

For the first time, the Schepens Eye Research Institute's board of trustees will meet in Palm Beach. At a meeting at 3 p.m. today at The Colony, Schepens President Kenneth Fischer will formally announce the institute's plan to create "centers of excellence."

Palm Beachers Kay Lyons, Scott Newquist, Nancy Raquet and Kathryn Vecellio are members of the Schepens board, as is Victoria McCullough of Wellington. Babbette Wolf of Palm Beach is an honorary trustee.

The plan is to bring scientists of various disciplines together to facilitate communication and cooperation, Fischer said from his office in Boston. That will hasten the speed at which eye disease discoveries are translated into treatments for patients, he said.

Schepens is the largest independent eye research institute in the country and is an affiliate of Harvard Medical School.

Three centers of excellence — Age-Related Macular Degeneration Research , the Center for Corneal and External Eye Disease Research, and the Mobility and Enhancement and Rehabilitation Center — will model the multidisciplinary approach used at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for Retinal Transplantation, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School.

"We have 24 different laboratories here and many kinds of expertise such as stem-cell biology, immunology and inflammation," Fischer said. "We are looking to bring the different levels of expertise that we have together in more of a team approach."

Each center has separate research goals, but some study areas will overlap with those at other centers. So some centers will share faculty members and all will continue Schepens' practice of working with researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the California Institute of Technology and other outside institutions, according to Fischer.

Dr. Patricia D'Amore is the director of the Center for Age-Related Macular Degeneration Research.

Many factors play a role in the formation and progression of the disease, D'Amore said.

"To learn how all these different variables could come together to create the disease process, we need to know how the genetics play into the lifestyle variables," D'Amore said.

Immunologists will collaborate with neurobiologists and others, D'Amore said.

"I think that's the strength of this kind of center, to come together and think about a common problem," she said.

Dr. Michael Young, director of the Gunzburg Center, is scheduled to appear at the board meeting to discuss clinical trials he is conducting. One of them, a study of the safety of using glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor to battle retinitis pigmentosa, appears promising, Fischer said.

"The hope is it will slow down degeneration of the retina regardless of what the cell type is. It saves (ganglion) cells in glaucoma and also (photoreceptor cells) in macular degeneration," Young said.

Visit www.schepens.harvard.edu for more information; or call (617) 912-0100.