Every penny raised at the Ponoka Ride for Sight event held last weekend stays in Alberta to fund blindness and vision impairment research.
The thousands of dollars raised is given to the Foundation Fighting Blindness (FFB), which in turn supports research at the University of Calgary and University of Alberta.
Dr. Bill Stell, a professor of the medicine at the University of Calgary, attended the event in Ponoka as a volunteer.
“My research is concerned with vision and blindness and the prevention of blindness,” said Stell. He’s primarily focused on training grad and undergrad students as scientists looking ahead to improve the future of blindness vision repair.
The students of Stell’s lab are supported by the FFB through the Eyegeye Research Training Fund, which aids in scholarships and the cost of research.
The program the students are involved in is mainly concerned with how to replace lost functions within the eye so that adaptations within organ can be made to restore sight.
Dr. Carol Schuurmans is another researcher at the University of Calgary and heads the second research route the money funds.
Schuurmans is a developmental biologist and her interest falls to retina development. Her research deals with strategies to replace dead rod and cone photoreceptors with stem cells, said Stell.
Schuurmans is given a share of two large grants supported by the FFB to fund her research; the Canadian Institutes for Health Research grant and the Brain Canada grant.
Stell also briefly touched on the research of Dr. Ian MacDonald, Professor and Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Alberta, whose research involves gene therapy and the degenerate disease choroideremia. The disease is a mutation of the gene, causing it not to make the right instruction or create the protein needed.
Stell says a new procedure focused on the disease is making headway. “It’s been tested in animals that have the equivalent of a human blindness disease for not more than 20 years . . . It’s really at the crest of the incoming wave.”
Stell is excited for the future of vision and blindness research because after decades of research fighting steps are now being taken. “We actually have good candidates for treatment.”
“I think it’s the greatest thing in the world that the bikers come out to support this,” he added.
Alberta isn’t the only province to host Ride for Sight events that fund the Toronto-based organization. Every year between $1.5 and $2 million is allocated to research projects. While Ride for Sight is only one of the funding sources for FFB “It’s still something we absolutely count of,” said Stell.
Area co-ordinator Dave Leshchyshyn says the Alberta Ride for Sight usually generates between $90,000 and $100,000 each year. “You always hope for more but it’s in that area.”
“It’s fantastic, it’s exciting, it’s heartwarming, it’s impressive,” Stell added. “It’s really impressive people are here just because they ride bikes.