Ophthalmologists Honored by Pittsburgh’s Eye & Ear Foundation

By: Anastasia Gorelova

The Eye & Ear Foundation of Pittsburgh, a local non-profit that supports innovative research in the departments of Otolaryngology and Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh, will present its annual excellence awards on Wednesday to Dr. Jean Bennett, of the University of Pennsylvania, and Dr. Albert Biglan, of UPMC Children’s Hospital.

Dr. Jean Bennett

The Albert C. Muse Prize in Medicine, awarded to Bennett, recognizes individuals who have made significant achievements in research and patient care, and alternates between otolaryngology and ophthalmology fields every year.

Bennett is a pioneer in using gene therapy for the treatment of inherited vision loss. Her research led to the first-ever approval of using gene therapy to correct visual impairment caused by a mutation found in the cells of the retina.

Using an artificial virus to deliver a mutation-free DNA sequence of the affected gene straight into the eye, Bennett’s approach is an effort to “write over” the genetic error to restore vision in young patients who lost the ability to see shortly after birth. The result, a therapy known in the U.S. as LUXURNA, is a culmination of over 25 years of work, and has been approved for clinical use in the U.S. and overseas.

“Dr. Bennett is not only a top scientist who pioneered gene therapy in the retina, but she is also a very caring person who takes excellent care of her patients,” said Dr. José-Alain Sahel, the director of the UPMC Eye Center, and the Eye and Ear Foundation Chair of Ophthalmology.

Sahel, who is also the founder and director of the Vision Institute in Paris, is one of the world’s top experts in vision restoration research and has developed other gene therapies for formerly untreatable vision disorders.

Dr. Albert Biglan

Biglan, who will receive the Muse Award in Excellence for Innovation and Service in Ophthalmology, is a skilled pediatric ophthalmologist who has practiced for 29 years in the Pittsburgh region and served as the director of ophthalmology at UPMC Children’s Hospital. Even after his retirement, he continues to lend his experience to his colleagues and the foundation.

“I felt that ophthalmology was the finest career that one could have and that the subspecialty of pediatric ophthalmology, helping children to see at their fullest potential, was absolutely the best,” said Biglan.

Bennett will give a free and open virtual 2020 Muse Prize Lecture about her work at 4 p.m. EST. You can register to attend here.