- School of Medicine
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José-Alain Sahel won the International Prize for Translational Neuroscience
José-Alain Sahel, distinguished professor and chairman of Pitt’s Department of Ophthamology, was awarded the International Prize for Translational Neuroscience alongside longtime collaborator Botond Roska. The Gertrud Reemtsma Foundation awards 60,000 euros each year to biomedical scientists and clinicians who make exceptional contributions toward the understanding of neurobiology and neurological diseases.
The researchers were honored for their pioneering work on restoring vision to blind patients using optogenetics, a way of creating light-sensitive cells using genes derived from algae. In the first demonstration of optogenetics in humans, they used optogenetic methods to partially restore vision in patients blinded by retinitis pigmentosa in 2021.
Sahel and Roska, a professor at the Institute of Molecular and Clinical Ophthalmology Basel and one of the first to apply optogenetics to restore vision in animal models, met in 2001 while working in a lab Sahel directed at Louis Pasteur University. It was the start of a long collaboration: Roska directs lab studies with optogenetic therapies, while Sahel spearheads development and access to patients for clinical trials. By equipping diseased photoreceptors in the eye with light-sensing proteins, the pair hopes to reactivate the cells and restore their functionality.