Gaining critical knowledge about the science and art
of vision and applying it to the prevention of blindness

Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) Update in Appleton

Please join us for an update on age-related macular degeneration on September 23rd in Appleton, WI!  Attendance is free (register here) for this kickoff event for the Trout AMD Project, a new initiative to develop more effective therapies for the most common cause of vision loss in patients 50 and over.

Poster for Appleton AMD update

Notice of Award Opportunity for MERI Members: AMD/RP Awards

The McPherson Eye Research Institute is pleased to announce this Fall semester’s application opportunity for our AMD/RP Awards! Supported by the generosity of Roger and Lynn Van Vreede and by the Robert A. Brandt Macular Degeneration Fund, these competitive, annual awards are intended to advance research on age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and retinitis pigmentosa (RP). This year, the McPherson ERI is offering two $50,000 awards to advance AMD research and one $50,000 award to advance RP research. The deadline to submit applications is Monday, October 23rd, 2023.

To be considered for this award, you must (i) be a McPherson ERI member at UW–Madison and (ii) be faculty, a permanent principal investigator, or have limited PI status (see complete eligibility criteria here). Those interested in learning more about this award opportunity can visit our AMD / RP Research Awards webpage for more details.

Computational tool helps uncover gene networks of cell fate

A recently published study from the Wisconsin Institute of Discovery (WID), titled Inference of cell type-specific gene regulatory networks on cell lineages from single cell omic datasets integrates both computational and biological sciences by using machine learning to better understand the driving forces of cellular identity. Specifically, WID member and professor Sushmita Roy and her lab used single-cell Multi-Task Network Inference (scMTNI) to detect gene regulatory networks responsible for cell type transitions. Full article

Keywords Gene regulatory networks(GRNs), cellular reprogramming, machine learning, single-cell omics, single-cell Multi-Task Network Inference (scMTNI)

Nonviral base editing of KCNJ13 mutation preserves vision in a model of inherited retinal channelopathy

We are pleased to announce that a new study, with contributions by several MERI members, has just been published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation! The paper, entitled ‘Nonviral base editing of KCNJ13 mutation preserves vision in a model of inherited retinal channelopathy’, provides a preclinical validation of targeted ion channel functional rescue, reinforcing the effectiveness of nonviral genome editing therapy for rare inherited disorders.

Keywords: Gene editing, nanoparticles, nonviral delivery, KCNJ13 loss-of-function nonsense mutation, 61 Kir7.1 ion channel, Leber congenital amaurosis 16 (LCA16), inherited retinal degeneration, induced 62 pluripotent stem cell-derived retinal pigment epithelium (iPSC-RPE)

Emerging Technologies at UW-Madison Get Boost from State Funds

Emerging technologies developed at UW–Madison will receive funding assistance as the result of an on-campus grant program administered by UW–Madison’s Discovery to Product (D2P) and a matching grant of $300,000 from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). One project that is being funded by these programs is that of MERI member Sanbrita Mondal, who will work with Sensify, Inc. to develop a non-invasive workflow to screen for early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.
Full article

Research Beyond Waisman Center: Discoveries that have spun into products

Multiple discoveries born from the minds and hard work of Waisman Center investigators have left the nest to become successful companies or products that have had a significant impact in the world through translational research. Included is the work of McPherson ERI Director, Dr. David Gamm, who has contributed to advancements in treating ocular diseases. Full article

Faculty receive 2023-24 WARF Named Professorships, Kellett Fellowships, and Romnes Awards

Thirty-five of the University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty have been awarded fellowships from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education for 2023-24. The awardees span the four divisions on campus: arts and humanities, physical sciences, social sciences and biological sciences. Full article

Faculty members of MERI awarded these fellowships include Kevin Eliceiri, Kris Saha, Jill Casid, and Xinyu Zhao. Congratulations to all awardees!





From left to right: Kevin Eliceiri, Kris Saha, Jill Casid, Xinyu Zhao.

McPherson ERI Consortium Receives $29 Million NIH Grant to Advance Gene Editing Techniques

Using several innovative delivery methods, the new consortium – including researchers Krishanu Saha, Sarah Gong, David Gamm, Bikash Pattnaik and T. Michael Nork – will move ahead with gene editing techniques to treat two rare blinding diseases, Best disease and Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA).  Read more.

Photos of MERI gene editing researchers
L-R, Krishanu Saha, Sarah Gong, Bikash Pattnaik, T. Michael Nork, David Gamm

McPherson ERI’s Spring 2023 InSights is out!

Our Spring 2023 newsletter reviews the extraordinary career of Dr. Alice McPherson; announces the new Trout AMD Project; and highlights a new $30 million NIH grant to MERI members to advance gene editing therapies for two devastating eye diseases./>


Dr Freya Mowat receives the Dr. Joe G. Hollyfield New Investigator Award for Macular Degeneration Research

The highly prestigious award is presented annually by the BrightFocus Foundation to the top-rated New Investigator Grant recipient in recognition of exceptionally promising and forward-thinking ideas in the field of age-related macular degeneration.  Dr. Mowat holds a joint faculty position as an Assistant Professor in both the Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences and the School of Veterinary Medicine.  Read more.

Dr. Freya Mowat in Vet Med


Cycle for Sight 2023 surpasses last year’s total!

Cycle for Sight 2023, the McPherson Eye Research Institute’s annual fundraiser, raised $60,000 this year.  Teams participated both at our kickoff event on March 25th at the Princeton Club (which went very well in spite of a snowstorm!), and in the community.

As always, you can continue to donate to Cycle for Sight from anywhere in the world!  

Cycle for Sight supports the Kenzi Valentyn Vision Research Awards, whose Fall 2022 recipients were announced recently.  Also, check out our 2022 annual report to read about McPherson ERI research highlights from the past year.

We’re very grateful to our sponsors, Opsis Therapeutics and the Princeton Club!

Team Tiradani at the Princeton Club, 2023
Team Tiradani at the Princeton Club, Cycle for Sight 2023

New Nanocapsules Deliver Therapy Brain-Wide, Edit Alzheimer’s Gene in Mice

Gene therapies have the potential to treat neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, but they face a common barrier — the blood-brain barrier. Now, researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison have developed a way to move therapies across the brain’s protective membrane to deliver brain-wide therapy with a range of biological medications and treatments.

Shaoqin “Sarah” Gong, PhD, has developed nanocapsules that can deliver CRISPR genome editors past the blood-brain barrier, and is aiming to treat various types of retinitis pigmentosa — another advance from McPherson ERI scientists.




The McPherson Eye Research Institute is pleased to announce this year’s recipient of the third annual David G. Walsh Graduate Student Support Initiative (GSSI) awardThe GSSI provides a 1-year grant of $12,000, financed by the David G. Walsh Research Fellowship Endowment Fund, to a McPherson ERI member to support the work of a graduate student. 

Awardee: Principal Investigator Freya Mowat, BVsc, PhD, DECVO, DACVO, MRCVS (Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences, SMPH; Surgical Sciences, VetMed)

Funding will support the thesis work of PhD candidate Michele Salzman. Michele’s thesis focuses on The Effects of Cadmium Exposure on the Retina in Outbred and Laboratory Animal Species. 


Now in the Mandelbaum & Albert Family Vision Gallery:  Envisioning the Environment – Scenes from Plein Air Artists, featuring works from twelve Wisconsin artists. Stop by to view scenes from all seasons, captured outdoors in settings local and far away, to brighten our days and engage our imaginations.




McPherson ERI 2022 AMD & RP Research Awards

With funding provided by generous gifts from Roger and Lynn Van Vreede and from the Robert A. Brandt Macular Degeneration Fund, the McPherson ERI Leadership Committee is pleased to announce two awards of $50,000 each to advance research in age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and one award of $50,000 to advance research in retinitis pigmentosa (RP).

Sushmita Roy, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Biostatistics & Medical Informatics, Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, for High Resolution Characterization of Photoreceptor Populations in Cell-Based Therapy.



Akihiro Ikeda, DVM, PhD, Professor, Department of Medical Genetics, for Lipidomic Analysis of Age-Related Macular Degeneration Patients.




Mrinalini Hoon, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, for Understanding How Connections Between Inner Retinal Neurons are Altered During Retinitis Pigmentosa.

Congratulations on behalf of the Leadership Committee!


The McPherson Eye Research Institute is pleased to announce six recipients of the first annual McPherson ERI Distinguished Paper Award: Kristina Chern, Ray Doudlah, Vishnu Lokhande, and Steven Mayerl, Philip Myzk, and Aindrila Saha.  Funded by Cycle for Sight, this award recognizes the outstanding work of our trainees and the breadth and depth of research conducted by Institute member laboratories.

**Prizes will be awarded in a brief ceremony to be held at the upcoming MERI-At-A-Glance event on Friday, February 24, 2023. (Registration for MERI-At-A Glance will open soon.) 

Lab-grown Retinal Cells Make Successful Connections….

David Gamm
David Gamm, MD, PhD
Xinyu Zhao
Xinyu Zhao, PhD


Successful connections between several types of dish-grown retinal cells were established in the lab, according to a paper published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  The paper, a collaboration between the Gamm Lab (co-first-authors Allison Ludwig and Steven Mayerl) and Xinyu Zhao, PhD, is an essential step in moving toward human clinical trials to treat blindness.  These results follow several important findings along this pathway in 2022.

Steven Mayerl
Steven Mayerl, PhD
Allison Ludwig
Allison Ludwig, DVM/PhD candidate





McPherson Eye Research Institute is pleased to announce the Fall 2022 Kenzi Valentyn Vision Research Grant recipients. These one-year grants of $7500 each are funded by the Institute’s annual Cycle for Sight event, which raises money to support research in McPherson ERI member labs and programs.

David Barnett, MD, mentor Michelle Ciucci, PhD / Freya Mowat, BVSc, PhD, Surgery: Translational Visual System Biomarkers in a Mouse Model of Parkinson Disease

Mason Shipley, mentor Donna Neumann, PhD, Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences: In Vivo Knockdown of HSV-1 Latency Associated Transcripts for Prevention of Recurrent Viral Ocular Disease

Praveen Susaimanickam, PhD, mentor David Gamm, MD, PhD, Waisman Center, Identification and Utilization of Selective Cell Surface Markers for Human Cone Photoreceptor Isolation and Transplantation

Serena Wisner, mentor Mrinalini Hoon, PhD, Neuroscience Training Program, Role of Photoreceptor Input for Synapse Formation Across Inner Retinal Neurons

Ruosen “Alex” Xie, PhD, mentor Shaoqin “Sarah” Gong, PhD, Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Developing Non-Viral Vectors for Gene Therapy in the Retina

Kenzi Valentyn Vision Research Awards, the McPherson Eye Research Institute’s annual research grant opportunity for trainees, were established in 2017. They are named after Kenzi Valentyn, in honor of her courage and positive attitude throughout her long battle with Kearns–Sayre syndrome, a degenerative disease with symptoms including vision loss, which ended with her passing at age 30 in March 2017. Her many friends and family members, including her parents Tim and Nancy, brothers Brett and Connor, and sister-in-law Mackenzie, have ridden in Cycle for Sight as “Kenzi’s Team” since 2014. The McPherson ERI is sincerely grateful for the Valentyn family’s dedication to vision research.

Past News Article Archive

Remembering Dr. Alice McPherson

With great sadness, the McPherson ERI notes the passing on January 16th, 2023, of our namesake and co-founder, Dr. Alice R. McPherson. Dr. McPherson’s many remarkable achievements are profiled on our website and are honored in the Spring 2023 issue of our InSights newsletter. Her effects on the McPherson Eye Research Institute and UW-Madison, on many other institutions, and on so many patients and researchers around the world, are incalculable.

Dr Alice McPherson
Dr. Alice McPherson with the Gonin Medal Awarded to her in 2014