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Foundation Fighting Blindness
Honors Visionary Leaders

by Gail Scott

The Foundation Fighting Blindness honored three individuals for their critical sight-saving contributions at the nonprofit’s 11th annual “For the Love of Sight” Visionary Awards Dinner held April 16 at the Ritz-Carlton in D.C.

Photos: Gail Scott

From left, Marlene Malek, president of Friends of Cancer Research; Tom Korologos, former U.S. ambassador to Belgium and currently a strategic advisor with DLA Piper; and Bruce and Jane Sherman attend the 11th annual “For the Love of Sight” Visionary Awards Dinner, where Korologos and his wife, former U.S. Secretary of Labor Ann McLaughlin Korologos (pictured on the front page), were presented with the Foundation Fighting Blindness’s 2013 Visionary Awards.

Since its inception in 2003, the dinner has raised nearly $5 million for research into preventions, treatments and cures for vision-robbing retinal diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa (RP), Usher syndrome and related conditions — which affect more than 10 million Americans.

This year’s successful event raised more than $400,000 to benefit research like the kind spearheaded by honoree Dr. Hendrik P.N. Scholl. A clinician-scientist at the Johns Hopkins University’s Wilmer Eye Institute, Scholl is helping to take promising retinal research coming out of pre-clinical research and moving it through human studies to evaluate potential treatments in patients.

William K. “Will” Ris, senior vice present of government and regulatory affairs for American Airlines, left, joins former U.S. Secretary of Labor Ann McLaughlin Korologos at the “For the Love of Sight” Visionary Awards Dinner held at the Ritz-Carlton Washington hotel and hosted by the Foundation Fighting Blindness, a nonprofit dedicated to sight-saving retinal research. Raising nearly $5 million since its inception in 2003, “For the Love of Sight” was created by Ann Korologos and former Burson-Marsteller COO Worldwide Ken Rietz, who is affected by the blinding genetic disease retinitis pigmentosa (RP).

The results of such work are having a visible impact outside the lab. Also in attendance at the dinner was Paul D’Addario of Arlington, Va., who is blind from RP and a recipient of Second Sight’s Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System, which was recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Since having the retinal implant device implanted in 2007 as part of a clinical trial at Johns Hopkins, D’Addario has been able to perceive light better and identify large shapes such as door frames that he couldn’t make out before.

Paul D’Addario, left, using the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System, and his doctor, Gislin Dagnelie of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, attend the Foundation Fighting Blindness’s annual “For the Love of Sight” gala to benefit research into preventions, treatments and cures for vision-robbing retinal diseases — including age-related macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa, Usher syndrome and related conditions that affect more than 10 million Americans.

“The progress in developing treatments for retinal diseases is invigorating,” said Ken Rietz, chief operating officer of Burson-Marsteller Worldwide who co-founded the “For the Love of Sight” dinners. Like D’Addario, Rietz also has RP and has lent himself to science as a clinical trial participant in an ongoing study, having a tiny device implanted in his retina that releases a vision-saving protein.

“When we started ‘For the Love of Sight,’ there weren’t any human studies under way, but now there are several clinical trials taking place and many more on the horizon that offer great hope to people like me who are losing their vision,” he said.

Mrs. World 2011-12 April Lufriu, left, and Jim Cowen attend the 11th annual “For the Love of Sight” Visionary Awards Dinner. Lufriu is a national spokesperson for the Foundation Fighting Blindness and has two children affected with retinitis pigmentosa, a retinal disease that progressively robs vision.

“For the Love of Sight” was also co-founded by former U.S. Secretary of Labor Ann McLaughlin Korologos, who, along with her husband — Tom Korologos, a former U.S. ambassador to Belgium and currently a strategic advisor with DLA Piper — were the evening’s two other honorees.

“I remember when Lancelot, a dog who had his sight restored thanks to gene therapy, accompanied Foundation Fighting Blindness leaders on Capitol Hill to testify in support of sight-saving research,” recalled Ann Korologos, also a top official in the Treasure and Interior Departments. “Fast forward a few years and researchers went on to restore significant vision in more than 40 children and young adults in clinical trials for a rare retinal disease, including a boy named Corey who put away his white cane and was able to play baseball with his friends. Now, additional gene therapy studies are happening thanks to the positive results, and other approaches are taking off.”

Karen and Basil Petrou, managing partners of Federal Financial Analytics, stand with Karen’s guide dog Ori. Karen is a board member of the Foundation Fighting Blindness, whose annual dinners over the past decade have supported groundbreaking studies helping to move the field of retinal research forward through advancements in gene, stem cell-based and pharmaceutical therapies.

She added: “Tom and I are very motivated to continue this fight to eradicate retinal diseases because the momentum of research is so strong, and inspiring people afflicted with these conditions have influenced our lives in such positive ways.”

Indeed, many of the people in attendance at the black-tie dinner have been touched by retinal diseases. The master of ceremonies was ABC7/WJLA-TV anchor Alison Starling, whose sister-in-law is affected with Usher syndrome, a genetic disease that robs both vision and hearing. Also in attendance was Foundation Fighting Blindness spokeswoman “Mrs. World” April Lufriu, who has worked to raise awareness of the issue on behalf of her two children who have RP.

About the Author

Gail Scott is a contributing writer to The Washington Diplomat and the Diplomatic Pouch.



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