SMU Sees Collab With Vision Research

With an eye on new research, a $2.5 million grant from the W. W. Caruth Jr. Foundation at Communities Foundation of Texas provides funding to the Retina Foundation of the Southwest and SMU’s Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering.

The goal is to create the Clinical Center of Innovation for Age-Related Macular Degeneration.

The new collaborative research center will focus on new methods of diagnosis.

It will also help the treatment of patients who are losing their vision to age-related macular degeneration.

“This grant was really interesting to us because it’s taking professionals from two different fields and giving them the opportunity to tackle really interesting challenges. Typically, you don’t have medical doctors and researchers focused on the eye working with engineers from an academic institution,” said Monica Egert Smith, community philanthropy director of the Caruth foundation at CFT. “We hope that this will serve as a model for lots of different medical disciplines.”

The new clinical center, housed at the Retina Foundation, will allow the foundation’s creative researchers as well as professional engineers and students to tackle the most common cause of vision loss for people 50 and older.

“This venture is pushing innovation to allow researchers in peripheral fields to tackle the problems in a new way,” said Dr. Marc Christensen, dean of the Lyle School of Engineering. “It sets up the framework for conversations that are critical for getting sparks of genius to happen.”

The Retina Foundation of the Southwest is on the cutting edge of basic research related to the disease that destroys the vision necessary for daily tasks like reading, driving, and texting.

SMU, on the other hand, has no such specific research or experience.

“We bring people who have never thought about the problem to the table. Maybe there’s some inspiration that may be gleaned from a geologist that has looked at layers structures of the earth that are similar to the structures at the back of the eye,” Christensen said. “We plan to be a clearinghouse for bringing the right problem solvers from SMU and the Retina Foundation to the table.”

The grant from one of the largest community foundations in the country is only the beginning.

Christensen said the center is designed to be sustainable, attracting other funding from national sources, to continue research until the problems facing patients with macular degeneration are solved.

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