The Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has received a $15 million pledge from philanthropist Jeffrey T. Fort, aimed at accelerating research and development of new treatments for diseases that cause vision loss. The gift will support innovative research led by retinal surgeon and scientist Rajendra S. Apte, MD, PhD, of the John F. Hardesty, MD, Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences.
Damage to parts of the eye that are important for clear vision such as the macula and retina can lead to visual impairment and, eventually, blindness. The gift will fund research to understand how inflammation and neurodegeneration can cause diverse eye diseases that affect millions of people worldwide. Such research is essential to the development of novel therapies to prevent or treat vision loss.
We are deeply grateful to Jeffrey Fort for his continued support of Washington University, the research efforts of our faculty, and the patients who benefit from his kindness, said Chancellor Andrew D. Martin. His generous gift will lead to discoveries that have great potential to be translated into therapies that can improve the lives of many people who suffer from diseases that cause vision loss.
David H. Perlmutter, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs, the George and Carol Bauer Dean of the School of Medicine, and the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor, are once again grateful for the generosity of Forts.
This generous gift from Jeffrey Fort recognizes the exceptional caliber of our physician-scientists and their dedicated staff within the Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences, said Perlmutter. Together, they deliver tremendous medical care and strive to make significant advances in the field of visual science. We are very grateful to Mr. Fort for his willingness to help us with these very important tasks.
Under the care of doctors at Washington University for nearly four decades, Fort fully understands the impact of eye disease. Ophthalmologists at the School of Medicine diagnosed and treated his eye conditions.
This gift is about the future, a moonshot that will allow us to take a giant step forward, said Apte, who is the Paul A. Cibis Distinguished Professor and vice chair for innovation and translation and knows Fort and his family for a decade. Jeffrey Fort has a big personality and a bigger vision for the future. He realized the problems people faced and was inspired by innovative ideas that could one day lead to therapies to help them.
As a native St. Louis, he is proud of the impact Washington University is making in the community. His generosity is a testament to his dedication to the betterment of the community.
Fort established the Jeffrey T. Fort Innovation Fund in 2015 within the Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences, which provides a $1 million gift to help researchers fund the root causes of visual diseases such as age- related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and other blinding conditions. . Five years later, he pledged another $1 million to the Jeffrey T. Fort Innovation Fund.
Forts support has already contributed to Aptes’ understanding of how metabolism affects neuronal function in the retina. Resources are positioned in his group to test molecular targets in human clinical trials for aging and eye diseases, including retinal and macular degeneration. Additionally, the support has helped shed light on the role of the immune system in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, a condition in which high blood glucose damages the blood vessels in the retina and can lead to blindness. The new $15 million commitment will fund clinical trials, among other research, aimed at identifying targeted therapies designed for individual patients based on their specific conditions.
These gifts signify a friendship, said Fort, who made his first gift to the School of Medicine in 2011. I have great respect for Washington University faculty and their contributions to research and medicine.
Ideas that were previously unfeasible because of the research resources required are now within reach, Apte said. Forts’ commitment to the visual sciences allowed the physician-scientist to think bigger. For Apte, that was a welcome challenge. He strives for precision medicine, tailoring health care and treatments to individual needs. Moving from the bedside to the bench, defined targets can be studied in animal models and cell-based systems before moving therapeutics into clinical trials.
This generous investment to accelerate retinal disease research led by Raj Apte is a testament to the strength of our faculty, cutting-edge science and leading treatment at John F. Hardesty, MD, Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences, said Todd P Margolis, MD, PhD, the Alan A. and Edith L. Wolff Distinguished Professor and head of the department of ophthalmology. We are committed to bridging science and clinical care to improve patients’ lives. This gift helps us to lead.
Fort is an award-winning photojournalist. Now retired, he is co-owner and co-founder of Motive Creative, a digital production facility specializing in theatrical trailers and media campaigns, in Hollywood, Calif. He also served as principal of Jeffrey T. Fort Investigations, specializing in forensic work, witness interviews, and expert witness support.
In addition to his gifts for the Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences, Fort gave $5 million in 2019 for research in the Department of Neurosurgery and to establish the Margery Campbell Fort Professorship in Neurological Surgery, named in memory of his mother.
Coincidentally, Forts’ latest gift for the ophthalmology department was finalized on October 6, which would have been his mother’s 96th birthday. Our mother was a charitable and generous person, said Forts sister, Liz Dorr, who helps coordinate her philanthropy. He would have been proud of Jeff’s commitment to advancing medical research.
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