University of Michigan’s Kellogg Eye Center receives $11.5M gift for eye degeneration research

From left to right: Jason M. Miller, M.D., Ph.D., James Grosfeld and Mark W. Johnson, M.D., at the University of Michigan Health W.K. Kellogg Eye Center. (LEISA THOMPSON, LEISA THOMPSON)

ANN ARBOR – University of Michigan Health W.K. Kellogg Eye Center has received an $11.5 million gift to advance research into a condition that is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in older adults.

Age-related macular degeneration affects 11 million people in the United States and 170 million around the world, and is more common than Alzheimer’s disease.

The majority of cases are the dry form of the condition, which causes an individual’s central vision to be increasingly blurred.

Although treatments are available for wet AMD, the more common dry AMD remains without standard therapies.

Philanthropist, investor and former chairman and CEO of PulteGroup, Inc., James Grosfeld, hopes his gift -- one of the largest in the country for dry AMD research -- will advance solutions in the field.

According to a Michigan Medicine release, his gift will support:

  • The establishment of two endowed professorships focused on dry AMD research
  • Increased laboratory staffing to increase the pace of research
  • Collaborative grants that will link dry AMD investigators with other experts at the Kellogg Eye Center and across U-M to bring new techniques and approaches to bear on the disease
  • A pluripotent stem cell facility to create cells for use in dry AMD-related research across disciplines
  • Innovations in clinical research, including the collation of ophthalmic images to advance clinicians’ ability to track dry AMD progression
  • Pilot funding for proof-of-concept experiments and research grants for trainees who seek to bring new ideas and perspectives to dry AMD research

“I am inspired by the passion, the commitment, and the ideas of the Kellogg Eye Center team,” Grosfeld said in a release. “Increasing the speed and the breadth of discovery in dry AMD can make a significant difference in people’s lives.”

“It was a privilege to share with Mr. Grosfeld what a transformational investment in dry AMD research could mean, and we are very grateful for his enthusiasm, his generosity, and the belief he has placed in us,” Paul P. Lee, the F. Bruce Fralick Professor and Chair of the U-M Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and director of the Kellogg Eye Center, said in a release.

Physician-scientist at Kellogg, Jason M. Miller, specializes in dry AMD research and retinal diseases. He has been named the first James Grosfeld Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the center and will direct the effort.

“I came to the Kellogg Eye Center to build a laboratory program for dry AMD, which impacts so many people,” Miller, a third-generation ophthalmologist, said in a statement. “We have made several discoveries that have given us a clear direction toward potential treatments. At the same time, we have been building partnerships that will both accelerate our work and enable us to translate our efforts into clinical applications.”

In AMD, lipid-rich deposits accumulate in and around a part of the eye that sustains the retina’s light-sensitive photoreceptors called the retinal pigment epithelium. Through his research, Miller has hypothesized that the progression of dry AMD can be slowed by improving how the RPE handles lipid. His team’s discoveries in the area are already helping experts approach clinical care.

Miller said the new research initiative will allow faculty at Kellogg to collaborate with peers around the U.S.

“The Kellogg Eye Center and the University of Michigan have world-class faculty studying problems as diverse as diabetes and heart disease,” Miller said in a statement. “The research tools and methods they use, when applied to dry AMD, will spark new discoveries about this devastating disease.

“The Kellogg Eye Center and the University of Michigan have world-class faculty studying problems as diverse as diabetes and heart disease. The research tools and methods they use, when applied to dry AMD, will spark new discoveries about this devastating disease.”

“In catalyzing work across disciplines, we are enabling the creative application of a wide range of scientific techniques and approaches to the challenges of dry AMD,” dean of the University of Michigan Medical School, executive vice president for medical affairs, and CEO of Michigan Medicine, Marschall S. Runge, said in a release. “Mr. Grosfeld’s visionary support will enable us to make important advances toward saving sight today and will create a legacy of sight-saving achievement.”

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.