A Conversation With Dr. Sahel
Dr. José-Alain Sahel is the chair and Distinguished Professor of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, director of the UPMC Eye Center, and the Eye and Ear Foundation Endowed Chair of Ophthalmology. Dr. Sahel, who was born in Algeria, studied medicine at University Denis Diderot, Paris VII, and Ophthalmology at University Louis Pasteur Strasbourg University. He received his medical degree with a Medal of the Faculty of Paris and obtained his specialty certification in ophthalmology. He completed a residency in Ophthalmology at the Louis Pasteur University Hospital in Strasbourg. He also was a research fellow at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and a visiting scholar in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard University. Dr. Sahel founded and directed from 2008 to 2020 the Vision Institute in Paris and currently an exceptional class professor at the Sorbonne’s medical school.
Dr. Sahel is known worldwide for his expertise in vision restoration techniques. He has developed several interventions— including stem cell implantation, gene therapy, innovative pharmacologic approaches, and retinal prostheses—for retinitis pigmentosa, other retinal dystrophies, age-related macular degeneration, and other vision impairments that currently are untreatable e.g. Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy. 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 as a result of a genetic defect. His team has developed novel high resolution imaging technologies for retinal and optic nerve conditions. Dr. Sahel also brings a strong neuroscience perspective to ophthalmology research, such as exploring the application of brain-computer interface technology.
Dr. Sahel is a co-inventor on more than 40 patents, several of which have led to start-up companies including Fovea Pharmaceuticals which Dr. Sahel founded and later was acquired by Sanofi Aventis. He also is a scientific co-founder of GenSight Biologics Inc., Pixium Vision Inc., Tilak Healthcare, Chronolife, Prophesee, Sparing Vision,.. He is a member of 11 editorial boards, including the Journal of Clinical Investigation and Science Translational Medicine.
He also held the positions of Cumberlege Professor of Biomedical Sciences at the Institute of Ophthalmology, University College London till 2017, and chairman of the Departments of Ophthalmology at the Quinze-Vingts National Eye Hospital and at the Rothschild Ophthalmology Foundation, both in Paris, till 2020. At the Paris-based Ophthalmology Clinical Investigation Center, supervised dozens of clinical trials, many of which focused on retinal implants, gene therapy, and other advanced biomedical technologies. He also founded and directed from 2006 to 2019 the French National Reference Center for Retinal Dystrophies and chaired from 2007 to 2017 a network of more than 90 European clinical trial centers focused on retinal diseases.
Dr. Sahel has been the recipient of numerous honors and awards, which include Officer of the Legion of Honour (2018), the National Order of Merit (2014), and invited Professorship on Technological Innovation at the Collège de France (2015-2016). He is an elected member of the Académie des sciences-Institut de France, the Académie des technologies, the Académie Nationale de Chirurgie, the Academia Ophthalmologia Internationalis, the German Leopoldina National Academy of Sciences and the Asoociation of American Physicians. He has also received the Grand Prix for Neurosciences of the Foundation NRJ, Institut de France; the CNRS Medal of Innovation; the Foundation for Fighting Blindness Trustee Award and Liura Liggett-Gund Award, among others. Dr. Sahel holds an honorary degree from the University of Geneva.