SIGHT KNIGHTS

While the name of the Knights Templar Eye Foundation might evoke medieval times, the Masonic charity is taking a decidedly forward-thinking approach to fighting blinding eye diseases.

“In years past our foundation had focused solely on supporting individual treatment, but we started giving grants to researchers because we realized research has a huge multiplier effect,” said William A. Garrard, Jr., Right Eminent Department Commander. “It stands to impact so many lives, and it’s a good investment in the future.”

Garrard, Grand Master of Utah Freemasons Robert M. Wolfarth, and three other Knights Templar visited the John A. Moran Eye Center in May to award two $65,000 Career-Starter Research Grants in pediatric ophthalmology. Moran’s Aruna Gorusupudi, PhD, and Dongmei Yu, PhD, will both use the funds to study inherited retinal eye diseases that can rob vision early in life.

A postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Moran’s Paul Bernstein, MD, PhD, Gorusupudi studies Stargardt-3 disease. She will use mouse models to examine whether synthetic polyunsaturated fatty acid supplements can slow down the progression of Stargardt-3, or even prevent or postpone it when taken during pregnancy.

Yu, a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Moran’s Jun Yang, PhD, will use her grant to determine the structure and interacting partners of a protein associated with Usher syndrome, characterized by both vision and hearing loss. Her findings will help inform potential gene therapies and diagnosis.

Yang credits the Knights Templar with helping to launch her own career. She received one of the organization’s research grant awards in 2003 while she was a research fellow at Harvard Medical School.

Moran’s Mary Elizabeth Hartnett, MD, a prolific National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded researcher who serves on the Knights Templar Eye Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Committee, explained the significance of the grants in the current environment.

“What the Knights Templar do is so important because getting NIH funding can be difficult, and there are really no other eye foundations that fund solely pediatric eye research,” said Hartnett. “This is a key investment in the future, and in the careers of promising young researchers.”

Gorusupudi and Yu will update the Foundation on their research in 2018.

“The research conducted at the Moran Eye Center is critical to the future of eye care,” said Wolfarth.  “We are so happy to be able to help sponsor this research, which we believe has great promise to address unmet clinical needs.”