News Releases

Aug. 6, 2007

Emory Eye Center Awarded Grant from Foundation Fighting Blindness for Retinal Degeneration

ATLANTA - Emory Eye Center recently was awarded a $309,000 grant for three years from the Foundation Fighting Blindness (FFB) to support the study of synthetic bile acids to treat retinal degeneration.
The goal of the project is to assess the safety and efficacy of various forms and delivery methods of synthetic bile acids in treatment of ocular disorders, says Jeffrey Boatright, PhD.
In a study conducted last year, Dr. Boatright found that a synthetic version of bear bile, which has been used in Asia for more than 3,000 years to prevent visual disorders, had a yet-unexplored potential to treat retinitis pigmentosa (RP), age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and glaucoma.  
The results of the study were published Dec. 29, 2006 in Molecular Vision.
Several animal and cell culture models will be used in the new study. The experiments should lead to clinical trials in humans, says Dr. Boatright, principal investigator. John Nickerson, PhD, serves as co-principal investigator.
“We are particularly excited that the fine work of our Emory Eye Center researchers has been recognized by Foundation Fighting Blindness,” says Thomas M. Aaberg, MD, chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology and director of Emory Eye Center. “With this funding, important research into retinal degenerations may someday help prevent these blinding diseases.”
In the recent study, the researchers found that systemic injection of synthetic tauroursodeoxycholic acid (TUDCA), a primary component of bear bile, prevents retinal cell death and preserves function and the structure of the photoreceptor cells in two different mouse models of human retinal degeneration. Photoreceptor cells are the rods and the cones, responsible for transmitting light or images into electrical impulses that go to the brain.
In ancient Asian medicine, the bile liquid within bear gall bladders was called a bitter, “cold” medicine and was used for detoxifying the liver, dissolving kidney stones and gallstones, relieving convulsions, and improving vision. Today, this medicine is still used in eye drops in traditional Asian medicine.
Ironically, Western scientific evidence now indicates that synthetic formulations of bear bile are medically efficacious. The good news is that this formulation is inexpensive.
The implication for positive outcomes in those with retinal degenerations was intriguing to Dr. Boatright. His hope is that the new funding from FFB may lead to new findings that will help treat these degenerations that affect so many older Americans. More than nine million Americans suffer vision loss from these blinding diseases, says FFB.
The urgent mission of the Foundation Fighting Blindness, Inc. is to drive the research that will provide preventions, treatments and cures for people affected by retinitis pigmentosa, macular degeneration, Usher syndrome and the entire spectrum of retinal degenerative diseases.
FFB has funded thousands of research studies at hundreds of prominent institutions worldwide. The Foundation funds leading-edge research in promising areas such as genetics, gene therapy, retinal cell transplantation, artificial retinal implants, and pharmaceutical and nutritional therapies. Since the late 1990s, FFB has provided more than $1,369,000 in funding to Emory Eye Center vision research.

Media Contact: Joy H. Bell,, 404-778-3711

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