FFB Driving the Research to Fight Blindness

Aug 13, 2014 at 04:03 pm by admin

When Alessandro Iannaccone, MD, was recruited in 2005 by Barrett Haik, MD, to come to the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s Hamilton Eye Institute in Memphis, he knew he was following his passion, but little did he know that this move would lead him to be the first in the world to treat a five-year-old girl diagnosed with Best’s macular dystrophy with a procedure (normally only performed on adults) that would save her vision.

But that is just what happened.

The girl’s vision is now 20/20 in one eye and 20/60 in the other. She is being monitored closely since what she received is a treatment and not a cure. There are less than 50 cases like hers in the world.

As a researcher, Iannaccone has long been involved with organizations that have helped fund the research. He gave credit to the MidSouth Lions organization for buying the instruments he needed to diagnose patients for retinal degeneration when his office was located at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital years ago.

Today, Iannaccone, who was born in Rome, Italy, is president of the Mid-South Chapter of Foundation Fighting Blindness (FFB), an organization that draws members from the tri-state area in which we live. Its mission is to drive the research that will provide preventions, treatments and cures for people affected by retinitis pigmentosa (RP), macular degeneration, Usher syndrome, and the entire spectrum of retinal degenerative diseases.

Recent developments supported by FFB include gene replacement therapy trials and research that has led to the approval of artificial retina devices. FFB also backs ongoing drug treatment trials that aim to halt the destructive effects of certain forms of RP.

Iannaccone says gene therapy in mice is successful. In addition, veterinary ophthalmology publications report that gene therapy trials are facilitating a path to treating humans.

How Big is the Problem?

According to Foundation Fighting Blindness, in Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi, more than 350,000 people are challenged by blindness caused by retinal diseases such as Macular Degeneration and Retinitis Pigmentosa. Across the United States, more than 10 million of every age and race suffer vision loss from blinding diseases.

The FFB Mid-South Chapter hosts periodic special presentations on eye diseases and research. The next one is scheduled November 2, 2014, at the UTHSC Auditorium. There will be presentations by David Wilson, MD, Oregon Health & Science University on Gene Therapy and Orli Weisser-Pike and the UTHSC’s Low Vision Rehabilitation Center. For more information, call Dr. Iannaccone at 901-448-7831.

How Can You Help?


Your donations help fund the research needed to translate the success of animal blindness research involving gene therapy into human clinical trials. Iannaccone and his fellow researchers at UTHSC are one of only six sites in the country working on a drug based trial for Retinitis Pigmentosa.

Your gift could save someone else’s sight! Send donations to Mid-South Chapter of FFB, Attn: Janice Caudill, 9200 Longwood Lane, Germantown, TN 38139.


This October 25th, the Seventh Annual VisionWalk will be held at Shelby Farms Park to raise money for FFB. This is their big fundraiser and their goal for this year is to raise $55,000. There are many ways to participate:

Form a Walk Team: Rally your medical practice employees around this cause and build collegial office relationships!

Be a Community Champion with a $10,000 Sponsorship

Your logo on all Event Invitations, Brochures, Posters, T-shirts Your logo on the Event Stage Banner Make Stage remarks the day of the Walk Event day booth Logo on VisionWalk website homepage Much more…

Be a Community Captain with a $5,000 Sponsorship

Your logo on all Event Invitations, brochures, posters and T-shirts Logo on Event Stage Banner Make stage remarks the day of the Walk Logo on VisionWalk website homepage Event day booth More…

Be a Community Leader with a $2,500 Sponsorship

Your logo on Event brochures, posters and T-shirts Logo on Event Stage Banner Logo on VisionWalk website homepage Event day booth

Be a Community Partner for $1000.

Name on Event brochures, posters and T-shirts Day of Event sign with logo

Be a Community Supporter for $500.

Name on Event T-shirts Day of Event sign with name

Volunteers are needed for the day of VisionWalk. If you can help, please call Janice Caudill at 901.417.7524.

For more information go to the FFB website: www.fightingblindness.org/MemphisVisionWalk.

“We are fortunate to have an active and engaged chapter board that carries the spirit of FFB’s Co-Founder and Chairman of the Board Gordon Gund. His vision is our vision: We will save and restore sight by funding vital research,” said Iannaccone. “Losing vision cripples one’s abilities to interact with other people and limits the ability to enjoy life. To be able to see the faces of your children and grandchildren is priceless.”

If you have a charity or non-profit that you would like to see spotlighted in Memphis on the Mend, please send your nomination to pamela@memphismedicalnews.com.

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