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A researcher at the John A. Moran Eye Center has been selected as one of 10 winners by the National Eye Institute (NEI), part of the National Institutes of Health.
Yingbin Fu, a Moran researcher and assistant professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Science at the University of Utah, is one of 10 winners of the Audacious Goals Challenge, a nationwide competition for compelling ideas to advance vision and science.
Fu’s “audacious” goal, “Precise Gene Editing In Vivo,” aims to permanently correct disease-associated mutations in a patient through the use of molecules specially designed to target mutated DNA sequences that can be delivered safely and efficiently into the eye, which would lead to an enormous step in the prevention and cure of human ocular diseases.
“If this goal is achieved, the impact would be enormous in the prevention and cure of human diseases,” Fu said. “As we enter the era of personalized medicine, it has become more and more practical to sequence a person’s genome at low cost, which makes it possible for us to catch disease-causing mutations early and before the onset of disease.”
Fu’s vision is to correct these mutations using highly efficient and safe molecular scissors to prevent disease development. Of course, it can also be used to treat disease in the early and intermediate stages. Beyond eye disease, this strategy could also be applied to the genetic component of virtually any human disease, whether inherited or resulting from cellular responses to environmental stresses.
The NEI Challenge to Identify Audacious Goals in Vision Research and Blindness Rehabilitation is part of a government-wide effort to bring the best ideas and top talent to bear on the nation’s most pressing challenges. Entries were reviewed by experts on the basis of relevance to the NEI mission and whether the idea is unconventional, innovative, broad in scope and potentially attainable in about 10 years.
The challenge sought ideas that support the NEI mission to conduct and support research and other programs aimed at reducing the burden of vision disorders and disease worldwide. Prize competition entries were solicited not only from experts in vision research but from anyone in private, government, and nonprofit sectors, including scientists, engineers, health care providers, inventors, entrepreneurs and the general public.
Within a three-month period, 476 entries were submitted from across the United States, including Puerto Rico. Topics ranged from regenerative medicine and stem cells to neuroscience, genetics, drug development and artificial vision and prosthetics.
Fu will present his ideas at the NEI Audacious Goals Development Meeting, which will include about 200 vision researchers, patient advocates, ophthalmologists and optometrists from the U.S. and abroad. Following the meeting, NEI staff and members of the National Advisory Eye Council will finalize and publish a set of the most compelling audacious goals for the institute and the broader vision research community to pursue over the next decade.