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Foundation Fighting Blindness Presents Board of Directors Award to Penn Vet Researchers Targeting Vision-Saving Treatments and Cures

By Allie Gebhardt - Foundation Fighting Blindness Published: Aug 12, 2013

Drs. Gustavo Aguirre and William Beltran Honored at VISIONS 2013

Columbia, MD (August 7, 2013) – The Foundation Fighting Blindness, a national non-profit organization dedicated to vision-saving research, recognizes the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine's Gustavo D. Aguirre, V.M.D., Ph.D. and William A. Beltran, D.V.M., Ph.D. with its Board of Directors Award. Bestowed annually upon an investigator or group of investigators, this award pays tribute to outstanding progress in research that is advancing treatments and cures for retinal degenerative diseases. The honor was presented to Drs. Aguirre and Beltran in front of more than 600 people at the VISIONS 2013 national conference this summer in Baltimore, Maryland.

L-R  Dr. Stephen Rose, FFB Chief Research Officer, Dr. Gustavo Aguirre, Mr. David Brint, of the FFB Board of Directors, Dr. William Beltran.
An innovator in sight-saving gene therapies, Dr. Aguirre and his collaborators were responsible for curing blindness in Briard dogs with Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA) in 2001, including Lancelot, who became a national media sensation and accompanied lobbyists on Capitol Hill. Dr. Aguirre’s work was the precursor to translating this research into clinical trials that have since restored significant vision in children and young adults with the same disease. Drs. Aguirre and Beltran discovered naturally occurring canine models of achromatopsia, Best disease and forms of retinitis pigmentosa, all of which are currently being used in their lab to advance gene therapies for these retinal diseases.  

A longtime Foundation-funded researcher, Dr. Aguirre is Professor of Medical Genetics and Ophthalmology at Penn Vet. Dr. Beltran, who received a Foundation Career Development Award in 2004, is an Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology. Working in collaboration with Dr. Aguirre, his focus is therapies for retinitis pigmentosa.  Their progress in retinal gene therapy has been possible through the close collaboration with other FFB-funded scientists at Penn's Scheie Eye Institute (Drs. S. Jacobson and A. Cideciyan) and the University of Florida's Powell Gene Therapy Center (Drs. W. Hauswirth and A. Lewin).

“The work of Drs. Aguirre and Beltran is absolutely critical in moving gene-based treatments into human clinical trials for retinal diseases,” said Stephen Rose, Ph.D., Chief Research Officer, Foundation Fighting Blindness. “They are world-class scientific minds, and the research coming out of their lab stands to benefit millions affected with vision-robbing conditions.”

“It has been very enjoyable and rewarding to see the progress made when independent scientists join forces with a common goal,” said Dr. Aguirre. “In our case, the goal is to cure blindness through gene and other therapies.”

About Foundation Fighting Blindness

The Foundation Fighting Blindness is a national non-profit organization driving the research that will lead to preventions, treatments and cures for retinitis pigmentosa, macular degeneration, Usher syndrome and the entire spectrum of retinal degenerative diseases that affect more than 10 million Americans. Since 1971, the Foundation has raised more than $500 million as the leading non-governmental funder of retinal research. Breakthrough Foundation-funded studies using gene therapy have restored significant vision in children and young adults who were previously blind, paving the way for additional clinical trials to treat a variety of retinal degenerative diseases. With a coveted four-star rating from Charity Navigator, the Foundation also has nearly 50 chapters that provide support, information and resources to affected individuals and their families in communities across the country.

About Penn Vet

Ranked among the top ten veterinary schools worldwide, the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet) is a global leader in veterinary education, research, and clinical care. Founded in 1884, Penn Vet is the first veterinary school developed in association with a medical school. The school is a proud member of the One Health initiative, linking human, animal, and environmental health.

Penn Vet serves a diverse population of animals at its two campuses, which include extensive diagnostic and research laboratories. Ryan Hospital in Philadelphia provides care for dogs, cats, and other domestic/companion animals, handling nearly 35,000 patient visits a year. New Bolton Center, Penn Vet’s large-animal hospital on nearly 700 acres in rural Kennett Square, PA, cares for horses and livestock/farm animals. The hospital handles nearly 4,900 patient visits a year, while the Field Service treats more than 38,000 patients at local farms. In addition, New Bolton Center’s campus includes a swine center, working dairy, and poultry unit that provide valuable research for the agriculture industry.

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