Catalyst for a Cure

Catalyst for a Cure is Glaucoma Research Foundation’s flagship research program. Groundbreaking, collaborative, committed to results — this unique discovery model brings great minds together to deliver a future free from glaucoma.

Video: Glaucoma Research Progress 2024

The Catalyst for a Cure initiative brings together neuroscientists and glaucoma specialists to study glaucoma, find better treatments, and accelerate progress toward vision restoration and a cure.

  • Video Transcript
  • Video Transcript

    Catalyst for a Cure grows from two research realities: Discovery happens faster when talented scientists work together. And breakthroughs don’t occur unless people invest in them.

    Driven by our mission to catalyze a quantum leap in glaucoma care, Glaucoma Research Foundation engages scientists and philanthropists in a unique proposition: With support from donors who share our quest for a cure, our team of advisors selects four top researchers from four leading institutions to form a consortium dedicated to eradicating glaucoma. Investigators partner for three years, generating discoveries future teams can build on. Based on progress, the Foundation board may vote to extend a consortium’s funding for three additional years.

    Launched in 2002, the first team of investigators (CFC1) changed the conventional understanding of glaucoma as an eye disease to a new understanding of glaucoma as a neurodegenerative disease, revealing the possibility of new therapeutic approaches. From 2012 to 2018, the second Catalyst for a Cure (CFC2), the Biomarker Initiative, identified novel indicators of disease, enabling clinicians to detect, measure, and treat glaucoma with unprecedented precision.

    In 2019, in partnership with generous supporters, we launched CFC3, the Steven and Michele Kirsch Catalyst for a Cure Vision Restoration Initiative. Leveraging discoveries from the first two CFC teams, four investigators are speeding the quest to restore vision lost to glaucoma. Early results have been extremely promising, leading the way for new genetic, neuroprotective, and cell replacement therapies and bringing us ever closer to a cure.

    A fourth initiative launched in 2022 is investigating what glaucoma has in common with other neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The Melza M. and Frank Theodore Barr Foundation Catalyst for a Cure Initiative to Prevent and Cure Neurodegeneration breaks new ground by supporting research into multiple diseases, seeking knowledge and solutions that could affect all neurodegenerative conditions.

    The Catalyst for a Cure discovery model is unique in the world of scientific research. Usually, scientists work individually and often compete for grant money. In contrast, Catalyst for a Cure investigators, working out of their own labs at prestigious academic centers across the country, pursue promising leads together. They design their research in partnership, report results as a team, and, learning from and inspiring each other, generate insights much more quickly than they could working alone. Through their generous donations, supporters of Glaucoma Research Foundation make this unique and important progress possible.

    Explore Catalyst for a Cure Initiatives

    CFC4: The Melza M. and Frank Theodore Barr Foundation Catalyst for a Cure Initiative to Prevent and Cure Neurodegeneration

    Launched in July 2022, the fourth in Glaucoma Research Foundation’s Catalyst for a Cure series pursues one of our most confounding medical challenges: how to prevent and cure diseases that, like glaucoma, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), occur when key cells in the central nervous system deteriorate and die — a process known as neurodegeneration.

    CFC4 advances a transformative discovery by the first Catalyst for a Cure team: that glaucoma, long considered a disease of the eye, is actually a neurodegenerative illness. Although neurodegenerative illnesses are increasing in prevalence, treatments that protect, repair, or regenerate neurons remain elusive. By bringing together innovative investigators whose paths would not otherwise cross, the CFC model provides unique potential for outside-the-box scientific creativity — the kind of high-risk/high-reward research that rarely wins support from traditional funders.


    Initiated in 2022. Currently funded through 2025.


    Explore similarities and differences among glaucoma and other conditions that stem from the death of neurons in the eye, brain, or spinal cord, in search of potential preventive measures and cures for all neurodegenerative illnesses.


    Sandro Da Mesquita

    Sandro Da Mesquita, PhD
    Assistant Professor, Department of Neuroscience
    Meningeal Lymphatics and Neurological Disorders Lab
    Mayo Clinic
    Dr. Da Mesquita’s unique expertise is in the field of brain vascular biology, which has implications for Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

    Milica Margeta

    Milica Margeta, MD, PhD
    Physician and Surgeon
    Massachusetts Eye and Ear
    Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology
    Harvard Medical School
    Dr. Margeta is a glaucoma clinician and surgeon and a leader in the biology of microglia (unique cells of the brain and spinal cord) and in neuroinflammation.

    Karthik Shekhar

    Karthik Shekhar, PhD
    Assistant Professor, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
    Faculty Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory
    Member, Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute
    University of California Berkeley
    A leader in computational biology, Dr. Shekhar has played a key role in collaborations that span neuroscience, immunology, single cell genomics, genetics, and machine learning, with a focus on visual systems.

    Humsa Venkatesh

    Humsa Venkatesh, PhD
    Assistant Professor, Program in Neuroscience
    Brigham and Women’s Hospital
    Harvard Medical School
    Dr. Venkatesh’s discoveries have shaped the emerging field of cancer neuroscience, illuminating the nervous system’s role in disease progression.


    The four investigators for the Neurodegeneration Initiative met in person for the first time in July 2022 to kick off their collaboration. Their initial priority is to identify promising avenues of exploration, drawn from their areas of expertise, that could reveal how and why neurons die — the first step toward preventing and curing neurodegeneration.

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    More to Explore: Download the eBook

    Read “Catalyst for a Cure Report: Twenty Years of Innovation 2002 to 2022 — A Guide for Collaborative Research.”