In March, Lighthouse Guild announced that Dr. Vladimir Kefalov and Dr. Tiffany Schmidt will receive our Vision Science Awards for their significant achievements in vision science research. 

2019 Bressler Prize Recipient Vladimir Kefalov, PhD

“Throughout Dr. Kefalov’s brilliant career he has demonstrated an impressive ability to identify fundamental questions in retinal physiology and address them using a wide variety of techniques,” said Alan R. Morse, JD, PhD, President and CEO of Lighthouse Guild.  We honor him for his powerful, creative and precedent-setting work.”

Dr. Kefalov is a Professor in the Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences, and the Department of Neuroscience, at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri. He completed his postgraduate training in the Department of Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he spent several years as a postdoctoral fellow. Earlier, he trained as a retinal physiologist in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Boston University School of Medicine, where he earned a PhD in Cellular Biophysics. He also holds a MSc in Solid State Physics from Sofia University in his native Bulgaria.

“I am humbled to be named the recipient of the prestigious Bressler Prize,” said Dr. Kefalov. “I am honored to be recognized for my research contributions and believe the Bressler Prize will further energize our efforts to study the mechanisms of human vision disorders.” 

During his career, Dr. Kefalov has identified fundamental questions in retinal physiology and addressed them using a wide variety of techniques that have advanced the understanding of multiple disorders of human vision, notably the etiology of photoreceptor dysfunction and degeneration. Two types of photoreceptor cells, rods and cones, give us our color vision and night vision, and their malfunction contributes to a number of serious eye problems.

Little was known about the mechanisms that regulate cone cells, which are small and fragile. Early in his career, Dr. Kefalov used genetically modified mice to study the role that visual pigment plays in determining the functional properties of rods and cones, which helped to determine the mechanisms that make cones less sensitive to light than rods. 

After establishing his own laboratory at Washington University in 2005, Dr. Kefalov developed a comprehensive set of tools for studying and analyzing photoreceptor physiology, including the cone photoreceptors. He has advanced our understanding of the function of cones, their rapid dark adaptation, and their ability to adapt to a wide range of light intensities – features critical for daytime vision. 

With the wide array of experimental methods and the insights they produced, Dr. Kefalov’s lab has published 65 papers over the last 10 years. His publications have appeared in some of the highest ranked journals, including Nature, Neuron, Nature Neuroscience, Current Biology, PNAS, eLife, Journal of Clinical Investigations, and Journal of Neuroscience. 

His work is currently supported by five major NIH awards on which he is a principal investigator or co-investigator, including 3 RO1 awards, a U01 award, and a R24 award. He has also received numerous awards and grants from private foundations, including a Career Development Award from Research to Prevent Blindness, and an Alcon Research Institute Young Investigator Grant.

Since 2003, the Bressler Prize annually has recognized a mid-career vision clinician or scientist whose leadership, research and service have led to substantive advancements in the understanding of vision loss, treatment of eye disease, or the rehabilitation of people with vision loss.

Dr. Kefalov will receive a prize of $54,000 and lead Lighthouse Guild’s annual Alfred W. Bressler Vision Science Symposium in New York City.

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.