2019 Pisart Award Recipient Tiffany Schmidt, PhD

“Lighthouse Guild’s mission is to improve the lives of people with or at risk for vision loss,” said Alan R. Morse, JD, PhD, President and CEO of Lighthouse Guild. “By recognizing outstanding early-career clinicians and researchers such as Dr. Schmidt, we are supporting vision research that will lead to breakthroughs in prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Dr. Schmidt has already made remarkable contributions to the field of visual system neuroscience. We look forward to her future work.”

Dr. Schmidt is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Associate Director of the Neurobiology Master’s Program at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She received a BA in Biology and Psychology, graduating Summa Cum Laude, from Luther College, Iowa; a PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Minnesota and was a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Biology at Johns Hopkins University. She joined Northwestern University in 2014.

Dr. Schmidt’s research focuses on intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs), which, like other ganglion cells, connect indirectly to rods and cones, but which also respond to light directly as a result of a photopigment, known as melanopsin, in their membranes. These cells were recognized as being light sensitive only in the early 2000s and were shown to contribute to the pupillary light response and circadian control.

In the last few years, starting with her PhD work, Dr. Schmidt has made a number of significant discoveries about these cells and is continuing to study the many functions of ipRGCs and their role in adult retinal function and retinal development – contributing to new insights into visual system function. The main message from Dr. Schmidt’s work has been that ipRGCs are remarkably diverse and contribute to vision in ways that go far beyond circadian control and pupillary responses. Dr. Schmidt brings behavioral, electrophysiological, morphological, developmental, and genetic approaches to bear on a wide range of important questions concerning these cells.

“I am honored to be the recipient of the 2019 Pisart Award,” said Dr. Schmidt. “I share Lighthouse Guild’s commitment to improving the lives of people with vision loss and look forward to further advancing our understanding of the circuits by which light influences our behavior and physiology. A critical step toward achieving this goal is to understand how signals are processed within and relayed from the light-sensitive retina to higher brain regions.”

The Pisart Award was established in 1981 and has annually recognized an early-career vision clinician, scientist or clinician-scientist whose contributions have the potential to substantially influence vision care and/or vision science and has a proven record of accomplishment.

As the 2019 Pisart Award recipient, Dr. Schmidt will receive a $32,000 prize at Lighthouse Guild’s annual Pisart Symposium this Fall.