Preserving the Precious Gift of Sight

History

In the early part of the 20th Century, European immigrants with infectious eye diseases were held at Ellis Island, and eye problems from vitamin A deficiency were not yet known in the Western World. With the average life expectancy at 49 years, most diseases of the retina were not a problem.

During the 20th century, medical advances brought about a change in the causes of vision loss. Infectious diseases causing blindness virtually disappeared in the U.S., and people began to live long enough to be concerned about retinal diseases. As the century progressed, treatment for cataract and glaucoma became common, but where retinal disease was concerned, we were far from being "home free."

The number of older Americans rapidly increased in the population; and, because they were susceptible to retinal disease, blindness increased dramatically – at twice the rate of population growth. Physicians were alarmed because the retina was, and still is, the most difficult tissue in the eye to treat. Even with the advent of the laser, ophthalmologists were incapable of treating most cases of degenerative retinal disorders. Basic research was badly needed to take us to a new level where improved therapies could be developed.

It was, therefore, to meet these needs and this great challenge that RRF was born!

RRF: A Voice for Retina Research

Across the nation, there were only a handful of voluntary groups with the will and the means to tackle this problem. Retina Research Foundation (RRF), established in 1969, was one of those organizations. By the 1980s, RRF had become a voice for retina research in an effort to reduce the incidence of retinal disease, which was fast becoming the leading cause of blindness in developing countries.

Undaunted, the Foundation steadily raised funds each year for vision scientists who were nationally recognized for their work in retina research. Government funding for eye research increased dramatically, and the field of retina research matured.

As this body of knowledge grew, RRF programs were expanded to include major awards that recognize established retina scientists and contribute to their ongoing research. The Foundation also developed scientific exchange programs to disseminate knowledge of the dramatic advances that were being made in the laboratory.

Challenges of Today

Today's blind number 39 million worldwide. In the developing countries where life expectancy is short, blindness continues to be caused by cataract and infectious diseases, although the number blinded by infectious diseases has been greatly reduced in the last 20 years. In the developed countries where populations are aging, retinal disease is the leading cause of blindness.

Today 346 million people worldwide have diabetes, and are prime targets for diabetic eye disorders. Damage to the small blood vessels in the retina as a result of diabetes can occur, causing diabetic retinopathy. It is estimated that about five percent of world blindness is caused by this disease.

Causing approximately nine percent of global blindness, age-related macular degeneration is the primary cause of visual impairment in industrialized countries and primarily affects people as they age. At the present time, there is no cure; however  clinical treatments are now available which delay the progress somewhat.

Children and young adults are also prey to retinal blindness caused by retinitis pigmentosa, retinoblastoma, and other inherited retinal disorders. Retinitis pigmentosa can be caused by a number of genetic defects, and affects about one in 4,000 people in the United States. Symptoms including decreased night vision or loss of peripheral vision often first appear in childhood. Retinoblastoma  is a rare eye cancer of the retina and is caused by a mutation in a gene controlling cell division. This disease is most commonly diagnosed in children before the age of two.

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Mission of RRF

The mission of the Retina Research Foundation is to reduce retinal blindness worldwide by funding programs in research and education. As a public charity, RRF raises funds from the private sector and the investment of its endowment funds.

RRF’s 48th Anniversary

October 1, 2017