The Macula Vision Research Foundation (MVRF) gifted its remaining $2.3 million to the Scheie Eye Institute.
MVRF, founded by Karen and the late Herbert Lotman, has for years worked to partner with organizations on the cutting edge of macular degeneration research. MVRF has partnered with Scheie in the past, and so the decision wasn’t a hard one, Karen Lotman said.
“We came to the conclusion that if we join forces with Scheie we can make our organization more powerful and our research more in-depth,” she said. “If you put two really powerful groups together, they can light the world. [Scheie] is a world leader in eye research and we have been, too. Now we’re going to work together.”
Lotman, a longtime congregant of Main Line Reform Temple in Wynnewood, said she was diagnosed with macular degeneration about 40 years ago. The condition is the leading cause of vision loss and affects more than 10 million people in the United States, according to macular.org.
There are two forms of age-related macular degeneration — “wet” and “dry.” The former is characterized by the bleeding and leaking of blood vessels that have grown under the retina and macula. The latter is when small yellow deposits, known as drusen, form under the macula and deteriorate the retina.
There’s a preconception that macular degeneration is only found in older people, Lotman said. A form of the disease, called Stargardt disease, is found in younger people and caused by a recessive gene.
Lotman explained what it feels like to live with the condition.
“If you were to take your hand and place the whole palm over your eye socket, you would just see that little gleam of light,” she said. “It’s all you can see. Just a little tiny edge.”
The Lotmans “have been instrumental in helping us make breakthroughs,” said Joan O’Brien, chair of ophthalmology and director of the Scheie Eye Institute and the chairman of the University of Pennsylvania’s department of opthalmology.
She specifically credited the couple’s donations to contributing to progress in gene development. In early September, O’Brien was in Portugal as her colleagues accepted an award for helping come up with a revolutionary gene therapy cure for a rare form of childhood blindness.
“I have children and grandchildren and I pray they never ever get this affliction,” Lotman said.
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