Dr. Sahel Receiving Two Awards

José-Alain Sahel, MD

Dr. José-Alain Sahel, Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh and Director of the UPMC Eye Center, has two more awards to add to his already sizeable collection.

Along with his collaborator Botond Roska, PhD, of the Institute of Molecular and Clinical Ophthalmology Basel, on June 22 in Hamburg, Dr. Sahel will receive the 2023 International Prize for Translational Neuroscience of the Gertrud Reemtsma Foundation, administered by the Max Planck Society. The prize has been awarded for outstanding achievements in basic neurological research since 1990 and provides 50,000 Euros in funding; the Max Planck Society is a not-for-profit organization headquartered in Munich, Germany, with more than 80 institutes and research facilities around the world.

Dr. Sahel was also recently promoted to Commander in the National Order of Merit by the government of France. Established in 1963, the Order honors French citizens who have made distinguished achievements in the service of others. Dr. Sahel first received the rank of officer in the National Order of Merit in 2012.

“We are never surprised to hear Dr. Sahel is receiving another award, as he we know how much his work has contributed to new therapies and technologies for people with vision loss,” said Eye & Ear Foundation CEO Lawton Snyder. “What is surprising is his humility with everything he does and everyone he meets.”

As one of the world’s top experts in retinal diseases and vision restoration research, Dr. Sahel has developed several interventions — including stem cell implantation, gene therapy, innovative pharmacologic approaches, optogenetics, and the artificial retina — for retinitis pigmentosa, age-related macular degeneration, vascular eye disease and other vision impairments that currently are untreatable. Over the past decade, he has led pioneering efforts in optogenetic vision restoration, a technique in which cells in the retina are genetically modified to express light sensitive proteins. This therapeutic technique has the potential to help patients who are blind or visually impaired because of a genetic defect.

The second award Dr. Sahel is receiving is the Corinne Kirchner Research Award from the American Foundation for the Blind, on April 20.

“José is truly deserving of these awards not only because of his many years as a worldwide leader in vision restoration research and treatment, but also for his passionate embrace of team science, educational goals, and health equity,” said Anantha Shekhar, Dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “He would be the first to say his greatest achievement is bringing together the right group of investigators with varying approaches to curing blindness, and he is fiercely determined to ensure that any resulting breakthroughs benefit all patients equitably, including those from underserved communities who may not always have access to the most cutting-edge vision treatments and care.”