Simon John Awarded Sanford and Susan Greenberg Visionary Prize to End Blindness

December 18, 2020
Simon John, PhD, poses for a photo in an office space.
Courtesy of Columbia University Department of Ophthalmology

Simon John, PhD, the Robert L. Burch III Professor of Ophthalmic Sciences in the Department of Ophthalmology in the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, has been awarded the Sanford and Susan Greenberg End Blindness Visionary Prize. The award recognizes members of the scientific and medical communities who have contributed significantly to ending blindness.

John shares the Visionary Prize with Zhigang He, PhD, from Boston Children's Hospital’s F.M. Kirby Neurobiology Center. John’s team will use the prize to continue its research on combatting diseases like glaucoma.

A virtual awards ceremony for the Greenberg Prize was held Dec. 14. John was among 13 recipients honored in two categories who will share $3 million in prize money. The Visionary Prize provides funding for scientists whose research exhibits significant potential in ending blindness.

John joined the Department of Ophthalmology in the fall of 2019 and is regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in glaucoma research.

“Our group focuses on diseases, such as glaucoma, that damage the retinal cells which connect the eye to the brain,” John said during the virtual ceremony. “To prevent loss of vision, we are developing medications and gene therapies to help the cells fend off disease. To restore visual function following damage, we are developing approaches to regrow their connections to the brain.”

G.A. (Jack) Cioffi, MD, the Jean and Richard Deems Professor, the Edward S. Harkness Professor, and chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at VP&S, congratulated John and his team on the award. “Dr. John is widely known as a leading innovator and we are incredibly proud that his work is being recognized with this prestigious award,” he said.

The Sanford and Susan Greenberg Prizes were established in 2012 by Sanford “Sandy” Greenberg (’62CC, ’67BUS), who lost his vision at the age of 19 during his junior year at Columbia College. Greenberg later made it a personal mission to do whatever he could to help end blindness.

“In 1961, at age 19, I lost my ability to see. While I was still in a hospital bed in Detroit, newly blinded, I swore an outrageous oath that has been with me ever since: that no one else should have to go blind,” he writes. “It was a promise I made not just to myself but to God—and one that has remained my personal mission ever since.”