Explore key milestones and see how our researchers are improving lives.
Surgeons at the University of Utah transplant the first permanent artificial heart into a patient.
BrightFocus funded early research supporting the artificial heart, one of the long-sought holy grails of modern medicine, and provided critical early funding to Dr. Willem Kolff, a Dutch physician known as the father of artificial organs. Dr. Kolff led the team that worked on the artificial heart that was implanted into 61-year-old Barney Clark in 1982 and designed the first artificial kidney.
Researchers uncover new genetic causes of inherited Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers, including BrightFocus grantees Drs. Rudolph Tanzi, Gerard Schellenberg, John Hardy, and Peter St. George-Hyslop, discover a new area of chromosome 14 associated with familial Alzheimer’s disease, setting the stage for an improved understanding of hereditary genes for Alzheimer’s.
Key gene identified as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s.
BrightFocus-funded scientists Drs. Allen Roses, Peter St. George-Hyslop, Thomas Bird, and Gerard Schellenberg identify apolipoprotein E (APOE) as a major risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Today, APOE is the most common gene associated with Alzheimer’s.
Researchers lay the groundwork for a better understanding of age-related macular degeneration—a disease that leads to loss of central vision.
Renowned English ophthalmologist Alan C. Bird, a member of the BrightFocus Scientific Review Committee, and his team, coin the terms “early and late age-related macular degeneration” and “dry and wet late age-related macular degeneration,” creating an international classification and grading system for age-related maculopathy and age-related macular degeneration.
Stanley Prusiner, MD, receives Nobel Prize for groundbreaking prion discovery with links to Alzheimer’s disease.
Grantee Stanley Prusiner, MD, was awarded the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his groundbreaking discovery and definition of prions, infectious proteins in the brain that cause mad cow disease in cattle and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. There are similarities between the loss of brain function in prion diseases and in Alzheimer’s disease, and an understanding of how prion diseases begin and develop may one day lead to a treatment and a cure for Alzheimer’s. Dr. Prusiner served as co-chair of our Alzheimer's Disease Research Scientific Review Committee and became an honorary BrightFocus board member in 2007. In 2010, President Obama awarded him the National Medal of Science, the country’s highest honor for science and technology.
Paul Greengard, PhD, receives Nobel Prize for his foundational insight that nerve cells communicate with each other.
A 1986 BrightFocus grant led Paul Greengard, PhD, to initiate a series of milestone experiments into protein phosphorylation in specific brain regions related to Alzheimer's disease. His most famous discovery, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics or Medicine in 2000, is that nerve cells communicate with each other through chemical and electrical signaling working in tandem, known as signal transduction. This discovery laid the foundations of modern neuroscience.
Researchers develop first optical test to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease.
Following his exciting discovery that Alzheimer’s disease can be detected in the lens of the eye, Lee Goldstein, MD, PhD, and his team developed new optical tests that can potentially diagnose and monitor the disease from the beginning stages, a discovery that could lead to an accessible, noninvasive way to detect, track, and treat Alzheimer’s.
First anti-VEGF treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration.
Grantee Peter Campochiaro, MD, is among the first to prove the benefits of suppressing vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), leading to the development of a novel anti-VEGF age-related macular degeneration treatment method that’s still the gold standard for helping to slow or stop further vision loss in wet age-related macular degeneration patients.
Researchers discover the “complement pathway” in age-related macular degeneration—central to the development of the first and only treatment for geographic atrophy, a leading cause of blindness.
This discovery would be pivotal to the 2023 FDA approval of the first complement pathway drug to treat geographic atrophy, an advanced and severe form of age-related macular degeneration. Early research funded by BrightFocus helped lay the foundation for our understanding of the complement pathway, part of the immune system, as being involved in onset of age-related macular degeneration.
Launch of educational workshop for early-career scientists.
BrightFocus offers its first workshop dedicated to Alzheimer's disease research, now known as Alzheimer's Fast Track, for PhD students and postdoctoral fellows to learn from world-renowned experts in the field. Today, the program includes Macular Fast Track and Glaucoma Fast Track and has educated thousands of early-career scientists from around the world.
Grantees create the first noninvasive technique to measure eye pressure.
Grantee Joel Schuman, MD, and his team create the first noninvasive technique to measure eye pressure—the most important factor to consider in glaucoma. For the first time, scientists can visualize and measure how fast drainage in the front of the eye occurs without touching the eye and without any bright lights.
Expanding research into sex-based differences in Alzheimer’s disease.
Three BrightFocus-funded investigators win an award to investigate gender-based differences in Alzheimer's disease diagnosis and treatment. Their work examines whether certain genes are expressed differently in men and women to explain the increased risks for Alzheimer’s in women and explores expanding technology to better predict sex-based differences in Alzheimer’s disease.
A new inflammatory marker discovered for wet age-related macular degeneration.
Grantees Sarah Doyle, PhD, Matthew Campbell, PhD, and others in Dublin, Ireland, discover that the inflammatory marker IL-18 could be used to prevent wet AMD and lead to a better understanding of how the immune system could be managed to reduce vision loss.
Bringing rigorous science to caregiving.
BrightFocus convenes the first national research summit on dementia caregiving, recognizing the evidence behind home-based dementia care as a critical component of care services for people with Alzheimer's disease and related dementias in the coming decades.
A collaborative grant awarded in 2020 to Quincy Samus, PhD, would later advance the dissemination and translation of MIND at Home, an evidence‐based dementia care coordination model, into practice.
Closer to the possibility of a vaccine to help rid the brain of toxic tau.
A research team led by grantees Kristen Funk, PhD, and Marc Diamond, PhD, brings us closer to the possibility of a vaccine by researching antibody immunotherapies to help rid the brain of toxic tau—and possibly keep it from spreading—in Alzheimer’s disease. Results of in vitro experiments show that monoclonal antibodies they’ve developed can disarm the harmful effects of abnormal tau protein, laying the groundwork for present-day clinical trials using anti-tau antibodies.
Advances in gene-editing technology improve the study and treatment of age-related macular degeneration.
BrightFocus-funded researchers, including Don Zack, MD, PhD, expand CRISPR gene-editing technology and develop a modified CRISPR technique that improves the speed and efficiency of gene function studies, aids in the development of new cellular models of diseases, and eventually could help treat genetic conditions.
First clinical trial to test a new glaucoma treatment focused on neuroprotection and vision restoration.
Grantee Jeffrey Goldberg, MD, PhD, leads a BrightFocus-funded, first-of-its-kind Phase 2 clinical trial to test a new glaucoma treatment consisting of an experimental cell therapy to protect the optic nerve. In this innovative approach, a capsule is implanted in the eye that delivers a steady stream of growth factors to protect damage to the optic nerve, which could possibly improve vision in patients with glaucoma.
First-ever creation and treatment of retinal ganglion cells using adult skin cells.
Grantee Jason Meyer, PhD, and colleagues reach a major milestone by creating and treating retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) derived from the skin cells of people with glaucoma. Healthy RGCs are crucial for vision, and this method could lead to treatments that prevent vision loss in glaucoma better than pressure-lowering treatments alone.
Watch a video featuring Dr. Meyer explaining his research.
Creation of first-ever International Brain Bank for Down Syndrome-Related Alzheimer’s Disease.
With BrightFocus support, grantee Ann-Charlotte "Lotta" Granholm-Bentley, PhD, DDS, created the first-ever International Brain Bank for Down Syndrome-Related Alzheimer’s Disease, a collaborative research network that develops and shares high-quality biological research samples and studies information about the Down syndrome population, of which as many as 80% have Alzheimer’s pathology by the time they are in their 40s and 50s.
Scientists discover genetic causes and biochemical mechanisms of two rare inherited neurodegenerative diseases.
Grantee Huda Y. Zoghbi, MD, wins a Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences for her discoveries of the genetic causes and biochemical mechanisms of two rare inherited neurodegenerative diseases, spinocerebellar ataxia and Rett syndrome. These findings help scientists better understand other neurodegenerative and neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s, and led Dr. Zoghbi to pursue dementia research, for which she was later awarded a BrightFocus grant.
First citizen science online game speeds up Alzheimer’s research.
To accelerate Alzheimer’s research, BrightFocus grantee Pietro Michelucci, PhD, created the first-ever citizen science online game Stall Catchers, where participants look at videos from the brains of mice and try to identify vessel blockages, or “stalls,” to help researchers at Cornell University. Scientists have pinpointed the link between stalls and Alzheimer’s disease in mouse models and have successfully reversed some symptoms by reducing the number of stalls. While documenting these stalls is very time-consuming for researchers, citizen scientists playing the BrightFocus-funded Stall Catchers have drastically increased research output.
New class of glaucoma medication available.
The launch of Rhopressa, the first approved rho-associated protein kinase (ROCK) inhibitor—fueled by early BrightFocus-funded research—represents the first entirely new class of glaucoma medication to become available in more than two decades, since the first prostaglandin analog drug was approved in 1996. Early work by BrightFocus grantee Haiyan Gong, MD, PhD, proved this class of drugs could relieve eye pressure.
New Alzheimer’s model reveals genetic changes associated with cell-aging processes.
Grantee Jerome Mertens, PhD, successfully reprograms cultured skin cells from Alzheimer’s patients directly into brain neurons, creating a brain model that is not only genetically unique to each patient but also biologically “remembers” the age of the individual. This research could lead to giving Alzheimer's neurons their own memory back, paving the way for therapeutics to prevent or treat the disease.
Sleep deprivation confirmed as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s.
In a seminal BrightFocus-funded publication on sleep and beta amyloid, coauthors and grantees Sarah Fritschi, PhD, Brendan Lucey, MD, and David Holtzman, MD, PhD, are among the first to confirm that sleep deprivation is a risk factor for—not just a consequence of—Alzheimer's disease. The findings reveal that lack of sleep alone helps drive the disease, suggesting that good sleep habits may help preserve brain health.
First Alzheimer’s blood test becomes available in the U.S.
C2N Diagnostics introduces the first widely accessible blood test in the U.S. to identify early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. After receiving critical early support from BrightFocus, the PrecivityAD blood test received an FDA "Breakthrough Device" designation, paving the way for new treatments for earlier and better patient care.
Deep sleep protects against Alzheimer's, new research shows.
A team including grantee Ksenia Kastanenka, PhD, finds that sleep quality may serve as a marker of future Alzheimer’s disease risk and the speed of progression. Sleep disturbance is associated with a higher rate of future beta-amyloid accumulation and deep sleep can clear toxic beta-amyloid and tau from the brain, the researchers confirm.
Blood vessel changes in the eye may reveal early dementia.
By screening Alzheimer’s through the eye, a research team led by grantee Amir Kashani, MD, PhD, finds that changes in blood flow and vessel density in the eye may be an indicator of problems with blood circulation in the brain, signaling the risk of cognitive decline from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. By bridging eye and brain research, BrightFocus grantees are pursuing a bold “what-if" science that could provide earlier detection and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.
Watch Dr. Kashani discuss recent research to diagnose vascular dementia through retinal scans.
New Alzheimer’s blood biomarker discovered.
Led by grantee Thomas Karikari, PhD, a research team identifies a less frequently measured biomarker of tau in the blood, BD-tau, that positively correlates with neurodegeneration and cognitive impairment before symptoms begin. BD-tau outperforms existing blood tests used to detect Alzheimer’s-related neurodegeneration and could lead to earlier and more accurate Alzheimer’s diagnoses.
Critical funding for treatment of traumatic brain injuries, which are associated with dementia later in life.
BrightFocus and the Medical Technology Enterprise Consortium jointly award $500,000 grants to researchers at Astrocyte Pharmaceuticals and a partnership between Mitochon Pharmaceuticals and the University of Kentucky for the study of neuroprotective therapeutics for the treatment of brain injuries, which could lower risk of subsequent Alzheimer’s and related dementias.
First-ever driving test to predict Alzheimer’s disease.
Grantee Ganesh Babulal, PhD, develops a first-of-its-kind driving test that can identify Alzheimer’s disease before other symptoms appear. By evaluating driving behavior, the team detects subtle changes in cognition that might be missed by traditional testing.
Pioneering work by grantee Ilyas Washington, PhD, leads to FDA "Breakthrough Therapy" designation for potential Stargardt disease treatment, with possibilities for treating dry AMD—two vision diseases that can lead to blindness.
BrightFocus awarded Dr. Washington one of the first research grants of his scientific career, allowing him to begin exploring a possible role for enriched vitamin A in treating vision disease.
A team of medical researchers and bioengineers, including grantee Ruchira Singh, PhD, develop the first-ever 3D cell matrix model of the human eye that replicates wet age-related macular degeneration.
The breakthrough discovery can help pinpoint what causes the disease, develop drug treatments, and determine how well drugs could work in specific patients, offering a more personalized approach to treatment.
First successful cell transplantation gives hope for new glaucoma treatment.
Researchers, including grantee Petr Baranov, MD, PhD, and team at Harvard Medical School, successfully transplant—for the first time—lab-grown retinal ganglion cells derived from induced pluripotent stem cells into the eyes of mice. Based on this work, researchers estimate that people with late-stage glaucoma could begin receiving vision-restoring transplants in the next 10 years.
Researchers develop a new wireless device to diagnose and monitor glaucoma.
BrightFocus-funded scientists including J. Crawford Downs, PhD, develop a new implantable device that could change the way glaucoma is diagnosed. The wireless device measures intraocular eye pressure and a variety of pressure parameters in the eye.
First-ever reversal of age-related vision loss and eye damage from glaucoma in mice.
For the first time, BrightFocus grantees and Harvard scientists Bruce Ksander, PhD, and Meredith Gregory-Ksander, PhD, successfully reprogram cells in mice to reverse vision loss from glaucoma, as well as normal vision loss associated with aging. The results show strong promise of gene therapy to reprogram eye tissue to restore vision lost to glaucoma and reverse aging and age-related diseases in humans.
“Meredith and I both got our start in glaucoma research from BrightFocus grants. We’ve received significant support over the years from your Foundation, and I am absolutely certain this project would not have been possible without this generous support.”—Dr. Bruce Ksander
First-of-its-kind artificial intelligence model developed that can one day detect Alzheimer’s disease by reading a patient’s retina images.
A team of Hong Kong scientists led by grantee Carol Cheung, PhD, develops a faster way to screen for Alzheimer’s disease using an AI model that reads retina scans. This highly accurate method could enable people, who would receive their results immediately, to benefit from early intervention and treatment.
Historic first patient-derived stem cell therapy for dry age-related macular degeneration.
Grantees Kapil Bharti, PhD, and Amir Kashani, MD, PhD, were part of the NIH clinical trial team that pioneered the first patient-derived stem cell therapy for dry age-related macular degeneration. BrightFocus-funded early research helped pave the way for this groundbreaking surgery.