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$50 million or more pledged to fight blindness

Medical ResearchDiseases and IllnessesNBALeBron JamesKellogg CompanyFood and Drug AdministrationJohns Hopkins University

Gordon Gund is the CEO of a venture capitalist fund, the former principal owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and a member of the Kellogg Co.'s board of directors.

He has also been blind for more than 40 years.

On Saturday, Gund announced that his family plans to give $50 million or more in matching gifts to the Foundation Fighting Blindness, a Columbia-based nonprofit that he co-founded.

"Our family is committed to finishing the job we helped start, and we hope this Challenge requires us to match as much as is needed to fast-track progress for promising treatments from the lab to clinical trials," Gund said in a statement.

The funds will be used to speed research into new methods for treating degenerative diseases of the retina and restoring the vision of those who are blind.

Gund, along with his relatives and businesses, has already donated more than $130 million to the foundation, the organization said. He hopes to raise $100 million through the matching program over the next six years.

Gund lost his vision to retinitis pigmentosa in 1970 when he was 30. He helped start what was then called the Retinitis Pigmentosa Foundation the following year.

Now 74, Gund is the CEO of Gund Investment Corp. and a minority owner of the Cavaliers. While principal owner of the NBA team, he was responsible for drafting LeBron James in 2003.

Retinitis pigmentosa is a family of inherited diseases that cause people to slowly lose sight as light-sensitive cells in their eyes die. The uncommon condition affects about 1 in every 4,000 people in the United States, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

The foundation said it is supporting 20 clinical trials to find treatments. Stephen Rose, the organization's chief research officer, said in an interview that the extra funds could help run more trials and turn promising science into treatments.

Some therapies might help people who have lost their sight to degenerative disease — whatever the cause — while others will be more targeted, he said.

An artificial retina has already received Food and Drug Administration approval. That technology, which grew from early research at the Johns Hopkins University supported by the Foundation Fighting Blindness, can help blind people regain their independence and see areas of light and dark, but not fully regain their vision, Rose said.

The foundation also hopes that gene therapies, which involve disabling mutated genes or introducing new ones, and stem cell-based treatments will help it meet its goal of letting the blind "retain or restore" their sight, according to Rose.

With that objective achieved, the foundation's work would be done.

"Our job is to go out of business," Rose said.

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Medical ResearchDiseases and IllnessesNBALeBron JamesKellogg CompanyFood and Drug AdministrationJohns Hopkins University
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