Research to Prevent Blindness

New RPB Core Vision Research Lab Opens at University of Florida

RPB SandersLab ribbon cuttingLeft to right: Suzanne Krahmer; Donald Krahmer (nephew of the Sanders); Sonal Tuli, MD, chair of the department of ophthalmology at UF.; Michael Good, MD, dean of the UF College of Medicine; and RPB President Brian F. Hofland, PhD. PHOTO: Jesse S. Jones/University of Florida.

With the snip of a ribbon, the 3,400 square-foot Research to Prevent Blindness Mildred Krahmer Sanders and William Clifford Sanders Laboratory for Vision Research opened for investigations at the University of Florida, Gainesville, bringing to completion a philanthropic initiative that started in 1986 when the Sanders decided to bequeath $550,000 to Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) to create a lab for vision research. 

"The Sanders created this bequest with remarkably thorough forethought," said RPB President Brian F. Hofland, PhD. "This lab fulfills the aspirations of all involved. For the Sanders, it will carry forward a desire to preserve sight for millions of people. For the University of Florida Department of Ophthalmology, the lab becomes a hub for their rapid growth and trajectory toward excellence. And for RPB, this is exactly what we were created to do and have been doing since 1961-- driving vision science by supporting the most promising investigators in the richest research environments in the country."

By the time RPB had put out a request for proposals and conducted the nationwide competition, investment income had grown the gift to $600,000.

"The new lab will give us significant opportunities to advance our research," said Sonal Tuli, MD, chair of the department of ophthalmology. "Our department is nationally recognized for vision research and novel therapies to treat blinding eye diseases such as diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration and retinal degeneration. This laboratory will allow us to enhance this research as well as expand our portfolio significantly by increasing research space and resources."

RPB Sanders Lab wide view

PHOTO: Jesse S. Jones/University of Florida.

Existing lab space was renovated to create the new laboratory, which houses advanced equipment such as a confocal microscope, cell and tissue culture equipment, a histology suite to study tissue samples and an electroretinogram, or ERG, which detects early changes when the retina is damaged, as well as other core resources.

The space is open to all researchers studying vision, not just those in the department of ophthalmology. One of the goals for the lab is to bring researchers together to spark new collaborations across disciplines, inspiring new research ideas and potentially leading to larger, multidisciplinary grants, Tuli said.

Dr. AQsh explains the confocal microscope

John D. Ash, PhD, explains the confocal microscope. While the lab and its equipment will be available to scientists throughout the U of Florida Medical School, researchers in Ash's lab will take advantage of the confocal microscope in their studies of broad spectrum neuroprotectors that may be effective for multiple degenerative diseases of the retina.

Another goal of the lab is to act as an incubator for early career investigators, which was especially appealing to the RPB Board of Trustees, according to Hofland: "From the vision that was laid out in the application, it was eminently clear that the new lab would support the work of multiple research teams and facilitate multiple lines of inquiry. Most important, well-defined goals for the lab have it accelerating the work of the University of Florida's cadre of cutting edge vision scientists."   

RPB has long partnered with UF, donating more than $4.42 million to date to College of Medicine researchers to pursue vision studies.   

"The generous support our UF College of Medicine researchers have received and continue to receive from Research to Prevent Blindness has yielded results in vision preservation and improvement for many patients," said Michael Good, MD, dean of the UF College of Medicine. "Together, we are stronger."

This productive partnership is in keeping with the Sanders' objectives.

"Sight was important to my aunt and uncle in their careers and in their lives," said Donald Krahmer, the couple's nephew who, along with his wife, Suzanne, represented the family at the lab's grand opening. "My uncle was a well-respected aeronautical engineer at Boeing and my aunt was head of Boeing's primary engineering library. They both grew up in the greater Portland, Oregon area and came from very humble means. Later they made their life in Seattle and travelled around the world.

Don Krahmer greets researchersBefore describing the origins of his aunt and uncle's concern for helping others to preserve their sight, Don Krahmer met the young researchers who will using the Research to Prevent Blindness Mildred Krahmer Sanders and William Clifford Sanders Laboratory for Vision Research for years to come. PHOTO: Jesse S. Jones/University of Florida.

"From our conversations, it's the people they met and the textures of the cultural settings they experienced on those trips that reinforced the importance of sight," Krahmer added. "RPB was chosen after a long process in reviewing estate-planning options to ensure that the funds would be properly used to support advanced eye research. This gift is representative of helping people just like others helped them in their careers and lives."

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