Newswise — NEW YORK – April 29, 2019 – Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) announces the 30th anniversary of one of its flagship grant programs: the RPB Career Development Award (CDA). The CDAs were founded as one of the few private sources of funding aimed specifically at early-career vision researchers. What began in 1989 as a $120,000, 4-year grant has grown into a $300,000 award that grantees have called a critical “accelerant” for their work.

In total, 203 CDAs have been granted to date. CDA grantees are a diverse group of clinicians, researchers and clinician-scientists, which encompasses every field of vision research, from age-related diseases of the eye to regenerative medicine, visual neuroscience, genetics and gene therapy, infectious disease, ocular oncology and dozens of others. 

An Impressive Return on Investment

Thanks to early RPB support, CDA awardees have gone on to make breakthrough discoveries, chair many of the top ophthalmology departments in the nation, serve as editors of leading ophthalmology research journals and lead some the field’s premier research organizations.

“The full list of CDAs reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ in vision science,” says RPB President Brian F. Hofland, PhD. “It’s amazing to have supported the early work of scientists who have gone on to impact the field so deeply. It goes to show that our grant-making mechanism really works; our Scientific Advisory Panel is astute at picking ‘winners’ by recognizing scientific skill, research promise and the motivation to deliver on that promise.”  

In fact, in the years following their CDA grants, the group has collectively obtained more than $1 billion in government and private research funding, an astounding 25:1 return on a $40 million investment from RPB.

More Than Money

The CDA is prized by grantees for a variety of reasons: funding being only one. It provides time to carve out a research niche and a boost of confidence that the grantee is moving in the right direction, as well as a signal to the field that a CDA researcher is one to whom others should pay attention.

The CDA also has an important mentorship component built in; recipients of the award are nominated by senior faculty members who mentor and supervise their progress over the course of the grant period. Mentorship is so essential in the early years of a clinical or research career that CDA applicants are evaluated both on their own merit and potential as well as the quality of the senior faculty that guide them.

“We’re betting almost as much on the institution and on the mentors as we are on the researchers themselves,” says Hofland. “We make sure there are people on the faculty who have the expertise to help them get through the difficult spots and grow intellectually, while at the same time encouraging them to become independent.”

RPB is now seeing that focus on mentorship come full circle. Over the course of 30 years, RPB has received many applications on which the mentors are CDA recipients themselves. Fifty-three of these applications have been successful in securing CDA funding. “It’s the award that keeps on giving,” said Hofland, noting that some awardees have subsequently nominated and mentored as many as five CDA awardees over the course of their careers. 

Seeding the Future

Looking ahead to the future of the award program, Hofland would like to secure additional funding to expand the number of young researchers accepted into the CDA community. Each year, RPB’s Scientific Advisory Panel selects six CDA grantees from among the applicants. Providing that enough additional resources can be secured, Hofland aims to increase that number to eight in the years to come and hopes to raise the annual award amount from $75,000 to $100,000 (for a total of $400,000 per researcher over the course of the 4-year grant) for even greater impact.

As he reflects upon the monumental achievements of the hundreds of CDA recipients at the program’s 30th anniversary, Hofland draws on a parallel from his own personal history growing up on a farm in the Midwest. “I think of the Career Development Awardees as being almost like our seed corn,” he said, referencing the top-quality seeds that corn farmers save and replant each year to guarantee future crops. “They’ve put down roots in this field and have provided a huge crop of research findings, expertise and leadership in so many ways. They are such a precious group that assures the future bounty of the vision science field.”

 

NOTE TO MEDIA:

On Monday, April 29, from 6:45am – 8am, RPB will be hosting a 30th Anniversary Celebration at the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) Annual Meeting in Vancouver, Canada. Members of the media interested in attending this event may contact Diana Friedman (631-838-4985; dfriedman@rpbusa.org). Pre- or post-event interviews with Dr. Brian Hofland and CDA recipients may also be arranged by contacting Ms. Friedman.

 

About Research to Prevent Blindness

Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) is the leading nonprofit organization supporting eye research directed at the prevention, treatment or eradication of all diseases that damage and destroy sight. As part of this purview, RPB also supports efforts to grow and sustain a robust and diverse vision research community. Since it was founded in 1960 by Dr. Jules Stein, RPB has awarded more than $362 million in research grants to the most talented vision scientists at the nation’s leading academic institutions. As a result, RPB has been associated with nearly every major breakthrough in the understanding and treatment of vision loss in the past 59 years. Learn more at www.rpbusa.org.

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