Macular Fast Track

Macular Fast Track

September 27-27, 2021

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BrightFocus Foundation will hold its first Macular Fast Track workshop in 2021 to help speed progress towards finding a cure for macular degeneration by investing in promising young scientists in the field of vision research.

Download the program book here.

Click here to view videos of the 2021 Macular Fast Track workshop presentations.

It will be held on September 27, 2021, at Sonesta Nashville Airport Hotel, Nashville, TN.

BrightFocus Foundation will hold its first Macular Fast TrackSM workshop in 2021 to help speed progress towards finding a cure for macular degeneration by investing in promising young scientists in the field of vision research.

Graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, or other early-stage scientists focused on macular degeneration research, or those who want to enter the field can take advantage of this unique opportunity to accelerate their path towards becoming an expert in this exciting field by:

  • immersing themselves in the background knowledge and latest discoveries in macular degeneration research
  • connecting with preeminent macular degeneration scientists and fellow early-stage researchers based in the U.S. and around the world

Register Here


Co-organizers and Co-chairs:

  • Preeti Subramanian, PhD
  • Joe G. Hollyfield, Ph.D.
  • John D. Ash, Ph.D.

Fast Track Program

Time Topic
9:00 - 11:35

Introduction of BrightFocus Macular Fast Track

Preeti Subramanian, BrightFocus Foundation

Introduction of Fast Track Speakers

John Ash, University of Florida

1. The Macula and Fovea of the Human Eye: Anatomy, Development, and Aging

Joe G. Hollyfield PhD, Cleveland Clinic

2. Clinical Diagnosis of AMD (wet vs dry)

Jacque L. Duncan, MD, Ophthalmology, University of California, San Francisco

3. Genetics of Macular Degeneration (AMD and early onset)

Michael B. Gorin, MD, PhD, Department of Ophthalmology, David Geffen School of Medicine – UCLA


11:35 - 12:10

Fast Track Morning Coffee Break


12:10 - 1:40

BrightFocus Macular Fast Track: Session 2

4. Histopathology of AMD (wet vs dry)

Robert F. Mullins, PhD, Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Stephen A Wynn Institute for Vision Research, The University of Iowa

5. Animal Models of AMD (neovascular models)

Bela Anand-Apte MBBS, PhD, Cole Eye Institute, I3-161, Cleveland Clinic Foundation


1:40 - 2:55

BrightFocus Networking Lunch


2:55 - 4:25

BrightFocus Macular Fast Track: Session 3

6. Animal Models for AMD (RPE and Bruch's Membrane Studies)

Catherine Bowes Rickman, PhD, Duke University

7. In vitro Models for AMD (Cell and Tissue Culture Analysis)

Kapil Bharti, PhD, NEI/NIH


4:25 - 4:55

Fast Track Afternoon Coffee Break


4:55 - 6:35

BrightFocus Macular Fast Track: Session 4

9. Immunology and Microglia in AMD

Daniel Saban, PhD, Duke University School of Medicine

10. Drug Targets and Clinical Trials for AMD

James Handa, MD, Johns Hopkins University


On mobile devices, you may need to swipe left to see all of the information in the table above.


Joe Hollyfield, Ph.D.

Joe G. Hollyfield, PhD, is Emeritus Chairman of Ophthalmic Research and the Llura and Gordon Gund Emeritus Professor of Ophthalmic Research in the Cole Eye Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio. He received a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin and conducted postdoctoral studies at the Hubrecht Laboratory in Utrecht, The Netherlands. He has held faculty positions at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City (1969-77) and at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas (1977-95). He has published over 200 original research papers in the area of cell and developmental biology of the retina and retinal pigment epithelium investigating both normal and retinal degeneration tissues. He has edited 19 books on the eye and retinal diseases. In 1984, he, Robert E. Anderson and Matthew M. LaVail organized the first Retinal Degeneration Symposium, which has continued every other year through the current meeting in Mendoza, Argentina in 2020. He has received awards from the Retina Research Foundation, Research to Prevent Blindness, the Alcon Research Institute, a Distinguished Alumnus Award from Hendrix College, the Proctor Medal from the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, the Balazs Prize from the International Society for Eye Research. He was Editor-in-Chief of Experimental Eye Research for 26 years (1991-2017). He has held a number of elected offices in scientific societies, including the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (Program Committee, 1975; Trustee, 1989-94; President 1994) and the International Society for Eye Research (Secretary 1984-87; President 1988-91). He has served on the scientific advisory boards of the Foundation Fighting Blindness, Research to Prevent Blindness, Knights Templar Eye Research Foundation, Helen Keller Eye Research Foundation, South African Retinitis Pigmentosa Foundation, Retina International and BrightFocus Foundation. He became Emeritus Professor at the Cleveland Clinic in 2017. He continues to be active on several scientific advisory boards and review panels.


Jacque Duncan M.D.

Dr. Duncan is the Steven G. Kramer Endowed Chair and Professor of Clinical Ophthalmology, and she is the director of the Retinal Degenerations Clinic at the University of California, San Francisco. She is also Chair of the Foundation Fighting Blindness Scientific Advisory Board and Chair of the Foundation Fighting Blindness Clinical Consortium. She graduated with distinction and honors from Stanford University, then spent a year doing research at the University of Colorado while she applied to medical school. She completed medical school, internship and ophthalmology residency at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Duncan completed a medical retina fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania, working with Drs. Stuart Fine and Samuel G. Jacobson. Her fellowship training focused on patients with age-related macular degeneration and inherited retinal degenerations. She returned to join the ophthalmology faculty at UCSF. Dr. Duncan has expertise in the diagnosis and management of patients with retinal degenerations including age-related macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa, Usher syndrome, cone-rod dystrophy and Stargardt disease. She has a strong interest in developing imaging and monitoring technologies to better evaluate both the progress of disease and the efficacy of emerging therapies. In collaboration with Austin Roorda, Ph.D., Professor at the University of California, Berkeley School of Optometry, she has studied cone photoreceptors in the eyes of patients with many different types of inherited retinal degeneration.


Michael Gorin M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Gorin has been engaged in multiple areas of eye and vision-related research since 1974. His primary areas of research are in genetics of complex conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, the molecular genetics of retinal and corneal dystrophies, and more recent work on the neurologic and molecular basis of ocular pain, specifically photophobia or light aversion. His research led to the identification of the first genetic loci for AMD, which paved the way for the discoveries of the first major common genetic variants in the CFH and ARMS2 genes. He continues to explore the genetics of AMD as endophenotypes to identify early preclinical biomarkers for this condition. He has studied the natural history and the genetic modifiers of Stargardt Disease in an FFB sponsored 8 year clinical and basic research program and continue to work on the methods to delineate disease progression for inherited retinal disorders, particularly for clinical treatment trials. His laboratory has recently begun using induced progenitor cells to study the etiology of Stargardt disease in patients for whom we can only detect a single disease-causing variant in ABCA4, The current work in his laboratory on the neural basis of photophobia, was inspired by the unexplained light sensitivity experienced by patients with cone dystrophies. Studies in Dr. Gorin’s lab have now identified a potential role for melanopsin-containing trigeminal neurons as a potential connection between nociception and light detection in a preclinical model of corneal surface injury. Dr. Gorin’s background in clinical ophthalmology (medical retina and ophthalmic genetics), biochemistry/molecular biology, molecular genetics of complex disorders and clinical informatics are all complementary to his research efforts.


Robert Mullins, Ph.D.

Dr. Mullins is a Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Iowa. He is a cell biologist with an interest in inherited and acquired diseases of the macula. His research has focused on age-related macular degeneration and other retinal diseases for over 20 years. He has studied the role of the choriocapillaris, drusen, Bruch’s membrane, and the immune system in regulating AMD. His work utilizes human donor eyes to understand human disease and use this knowledge to develop model systems and treatment paradigms. Dr. Mullins has made numerous contributions to the field, including a molecular mechanism for BEST disease and the role of complement factor H mutations in causing AMD.


Bela Anand-Apte MBBS, Ph.D.

Dr. Anand-Apte is Professor of Ophthalmology and Molecular Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine at Case Western reserve University. She joined the Cole Eye Institute at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in September 2000 and currently serves as interim chair. Her research team is interested in exploring the basic biological mechanisms of neovascularization with special emphasis on neovascularization in age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and ocular tumors. Dr Anand-Apte received her MBBS degree (Indian equivalent of the MD degree) from Bombay University, India. Following a residency at the King Edward Memorial Hospital in Bombay, she developed an interest in research and received a Ph.D. degree in Immunology and Microbiology from the Boston University School of Medicine in Boston, Massachusetts. A brief postdoctoral fellowship in the department of Cell and Developmental Biology at Harvard University was followed by a Research Associate position at Children’s hospital in Boston in the Department of Surgical Research. It was here that Dr. Anand-Apte developed her interest in understanding the basic molecular mechanisms of angiogenesis. She has received the Karen Grunebaum award for research in Cancer, the Tom and Sandy Trudell Research Award for the study of retinal degenerative diseases, awarded through the Foundation Fighting Blindness and the Lew Wasserman Award from RPB (Research to Prevent Blindness). Research from her laboratory has led to the understanding of novel functions for matrix metalloproteinases and their inhibitors in neovascularization and its implications in inherited retinal dystrophies and age-related macular degeneration. A more recent focus on regulation of the blood retinal barrier in diabetic retinopathy is providing interesting insights into the loss of vision in diabetes. The ultimate goal is an improved understanding of ocular pathologies that lead to blindness.


Catherine Bowes Rickman Ph.D.

Dr. Catherine Bowes Rickman is a Professor in the Departments of Ophthalmology and Cell Biology at Duke University in Durham, NC. She earned her doctoral degree from the University of California, Los Angeles and completed her postdoctoral fellowship at the Jules Stein Eye Institute. Dr. Bowes Rickman is a translational scientist whose research efforts over two decades have been focused on the molecular/cell biology and pathobiology of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). She holds the George and Geneva Boguslavsky Endowed Vision Research Chair, which helps support her research program. In an effort to better understand the pathophysiology of AMD, she has created a number of murine models that recapitulate many aspects of human AMD and point the way toward eventual treatments for AMD. She has successfully used one model (humanized APOE4 mouse) to test therapies for dry AMD, identifying amyloid-beta (Aβ) as a viable therapeutic target for treating the dry form of AMD for which there are no effective therapies currently for humans. Dr. Bowes Rickman is now studying mouse models engineered to express humanized CFH (normal or AMD risk-associated variants) combined with other known AMD risk factors (advanced age and diet). These mice develop many aspects of the human AMD phenotype and provide an in vivo means to interrogate the pathogenic contribution of genetic, inflammatory, and environmental factors on AMD pathogenesis and test emergent therapies.


Kapil Bharti Ph.D.

Dr. Bharti’s research is focused on the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), a monolayer of highly polarized cells located in the back of the eye. Dysfunctions in the RPE are thought to be the initiating events leading to degenerative eye diseases. Therefore, a better understanding of the disease initiating pathways in RPE will provide a basis for therapeutic interventions. In collaboration with the NEI clinic, we are obtaining skin biopsies from patients with clinically diagnosed degenerative eye diseases. These biopsies are being used to derive iPS cells. RPE cells differentiated from such iPS cells are used to study events that have led to disease initiation and progression. In collaboration with NCATS, we have combined the patient-specific iPSC approach with high throughput screening assays performed in 384-well plates to identify novel compounds that could act as potential therapeutic agents. In collaboration with new NIH Center for Regenerative Medicine we are developing iPSC-derived RPE tissue for cell-based therapy. We have modified the existing stem cell to RPE differentiation protocols to make them more compliant with current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP-work). Our work uses the most cutting-edge technologies in the field and aims to translate these technologies to a clinical use.


Daniel Saban Ph.D.

Daniel Saban is an Associate Professor of Ophthalmology and Immunology at Duke University School of Medicine. He received his PhD from the University of Florida in Immunology, and completed his postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School, Mass. Eye and Ear Infirmary. Currently, Dr. Saban serves as Scientific Director of the Foster Center for Ocular Immunology at the Duke Eye Center, as well as the co-Director of the Neuroimmunology and Glia Group at the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences and is a member of the Annual Meeting Programs Committee for the Immunology and Microbiology section for the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO). Dr. Saban’s lab studies the role of myeloid cells in the context of ocular health and disease (Reyes et al, Nature Reviews Immunology. 2017). The Saban lab recently identified a population of neuroprotective retinal microglia in models of retinal degenerative diseases (O’Koren and Yu et al. Immunity. 2019). Separately, his lab recently demonstrated a role for neutrophils in driving forms of Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) (Reyes et al, Science Translational Medicine. 2018), the leading cause of dry eye.


James T. Handa M.D.

Dr. James T. Handa is the Robert Bond Welch Professor and the Chief of the Retina Division at the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He is a Vitreoretinal surgeon who manages all types of retinal disorders from age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, as well as primary and complex retinal detachments. He is the implanting surgeon at Wilmer for the Argus II retinal chip implant both during the investigation that led to its FDA approval and currently as part of the Wilmer Center of Excellence. He has an active research program. His laboratory focuses on the critical events that trigger the onset of early AMD. In particular, his work has centered on how cigarette smoking injures retinal pigmented epithelial (RPE) cells, and how cytoprotective mechanisms including Nrf2 signaling, autophagy and mitophagy become impaired during disease development. For his work, Dr. Handa has had 25 years of NIH funding as well as grants from the BrightFocus Foundation, Fight For Sight, Foundation Fighting Blindness, the Macular Degeneration Foundation, Research to Prevent Blindness, and the Thome Foundation. He is a member of the inaugural NEI AMD Pathobiology Group under the guidance of NEI Director Paul Sieving, MD, PhD. Dr. Handa is passionate about mentoring, and he has founded the mentoring research program at Wilmer to help junior faculty obtain extramural grant funding that is critical for launching their research programs. Finally, he was the Chairperson of the NEI’s DPVS Study Section, and now serves on the scientific board for the BrightFocus Foundation and Foundation Fighting Blindness.