April 11, 2019 [DETROIT, MI] – The Detroit-based Gilbert Family Foundation, a private foundation established by Jennifer and Dan Gilbert, today announced the Vision Restoration Initiative, the Foundation’s second research initiative working to accelerate the development of therapies for neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1).

“We recognized the importance of connecting top researchers from across the country to work collaboratively in finding a cure for NF1,” said Dan Gilbert, Co-Founder of the Gilbert Family Foundation. “Under this newest initiative, the Foundation is providing funds, and more importantly, a platform to bring together scientific leaders and their multidisciplinary expertise. We are invested in bringing some of the brightest minds together with the kinds of talent and capital that is needed to beat the devastating effects of neurofibromatosis.”

NF1 causes tumors to grow on the optic nerves connecting the eyes to the brain in an estimated 20 percent of patients, causing many of them to lose their sight. In an effort to reverse this vision loss, the Foundation will allocate more than $11 million in research grants to develop innovative therapies that either repair or replace the damaged optic nerves.

The Foundation utilized a rigorous and hands-on approach to assemble a ‘Dream Team’ of ophthalmology, neuroscience, and NF1 experts from across the United States. The distinguished researchers include:

  • Larry Benowitz, PhD, Boston Children’s Hospital
  • Zhigang He, PhD, Boston Children’s Hospital
  • Roger Packer, MD, Children’s National Health System
  • Michael Young, PhD, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary
  • Andrew Huberman, PhD, Stanford University School of Medicine
  • Jeffrey Goldberg, MD, PhD, Stanford University School of Medicine
  • Michael Fisher, MD, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
  • Robert Avery, DO, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
  • Donald Zack, MD, PhD, The Johns Hopkins University
  • Daniel Goldman, PhD, University of Michigan
  • Thomas Reh, PhD, University of Washington
  • David H. Gutmann, MD, PhD, Washington University in St. Louis

“I am excited to join the team that the Gilbert family has put together with the goal of discovering and optimizing therapeutic candidates for vision protection and restoration, and to translate these to patients with NF1 and optic tumors,” said Jeffrey Goldberg, MD, PhD, at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

“I am extremely grateful to the Gilbert family for their investment in this important area of NF1 research,” said David H. Gutmann, MD, PhD at Washington University in St. Louis. “The ability to work with some of the finest scientists in the world and collectively focus our energies on vision protection represents an unprecedented opportunity to find new treatments for individuals with NF1 optic gliomas.”

The Team will focus on developing three types of products:

  • Neuroprotection/Neuroenhancement Therapy: Therapy designed to prevent further vision loss in NF1 patients with mild vision loss. Researchers will work to develop therapies that protect the optic nerve from further damage, while boosting its vitality and performance.
  • Exogenous Cell Replacement Therapy: Aimed at returning sight to NF1 patients with significant vision loss. Researchers will work to generate new, healthy cells for transplantation into patients’ eyes. These transplanted cells could then regenerate the optic nerve.
  • Endogenous Cell Replacement Therapy: Also aimed at returning sight to NF1 patients with significant vision loss. However, instead of generating new cells for transplantation, researchers will work to develop therapies that stimulate the patient’s eyes to generate new cells that would regenerate the optic nerve.

The Gilbert Family Foundation launched with a $150 million commitment from Jennifer and Dan Gilbert to fund groundbreaking, cutting-edge research to accelerate a cure for NF1, as well as community efforts in the city of Detroit. In partnership with the Milken Institute Center for Strategic Philanthropy, the Gilbert Family Foundation has established initial focus areas to guide its research efforts.

In December 2018, the Foundation announced its $12 million Gene Therapy Initiative to fund research focused on developing therapies that address the underlying genetic abnormalities of NF1. This initiative provided research grants to nine research teams around the world. The Gilberts and their Foundation have funded a total of $64 million to date in the fight against NF.