University of Florida Health ophthalmology researcher awarded prestigious prize for pioneering work
University of Florida Health ophthalmology researcher William W. Hauswirth, Ph.D., whose long and distinguished career includes developing and testing treatments for multiple forms of genetic blindness, is among the scientists being recognized for their pioneering work to eradicate vision loss. On Monday, Hauswirth was among 13 scientists awarded The Sanford and Sue Greenberg Prize to End Blindness, which carries a total of $3 million in funding.
Hauswirth’s achievements include a decades-long effort to bring sight to patients who have a genetic form of vision loss known as Leber congenital amaurosis type 2. His work with collaborators at the University of Pennsylvania culminated with federal approval of a gene therapy for the disease in late 2017.
“The 2020 Greenberg End Blindness Award is a very high honor to receive as it is selected from vision investigators worldwide,’’ said Hauswirth, a professor of ophthalmology and the Maida and Morris Rybaczki Eminent Scholar Chair in Ophthalmic Sciences in the UF College of Medicine’s department of ophthalmology research.
“I sincerely thank the University of Florida and the department of ophthalmology for the opportunity and support that have made this possible. My hope is that many or most of my gene therapy treatments for blinding diseases will make it through the approval processes so that patients around the world can enjoy a renewed sensation of vision,’’ he said.
Hauswirth is one of six recipients of the Outstanding Achievement Prize, which recognizes scientists whose contributions have made “profound strides toward treating and curing vision loss.” Hauswirth said he plans to use the award to support ongoing research to improve the efficacy of gene therapy treatments for Stargardt disease. The degenerative disorder impacts light-sensitive tissue in the back of the eye and affects more than 30,000 people in the U.S., typically beginning in their teenage years.
“Dr. Hauswirth is a visionary scientist whose pioneering work in retinal gene therapy has been transformational and made restoring vision to individuals with these blinding diseases a reality. His scientific achievements have contributed to the UF department of ophthalmology being recognized as an international leader in the field of gene therapy,” said Sonal S. Tuli, M.D., a professor and chair of the department of ophthalmology.
Hauswith’s career has focused on gene therapy, which treats diseases by using a harmless virus to deliver functional copies of genes. Ten of his therapies are being tested in human clinical trials or are on track to be tested. Hauswirth has published more than 400 research papers that have been cited more than 33,000 times in scientific literature. He has collaborated with more than 70 academic laboratories worldwide, designing and providing viral vectors for disorders affecting virtually every part of the eye.
The Greenberg Prize was founded to create a worldwide research community that will contribute its collective skills in concert to end blindness forever.