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Johns Hopkins Researcher Wins Prestigious Helen Keller Prize

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Sheila West Honored for Landmark Discovery to Curb Blindness in Developing Nations

Johns Hopkins University’s Sheila West, Ph.D., Pharm.D., a world-renowned expert on environmental factors and disparities causing blindness, was this month awarded the 2020 Helen Keller Prize for Vision Research. The Prize, presented by BrightFocus Foundation and the Helen Keller Foundation for Research and Education, honors scientific discovery and excellence and is chosen by an independent awards committee. The award was delayed by one year because of the pandemic.

Dr. West’s research in Africa and other locations has heavily influenced the World Health Organization’s guidelines for reducing trachoma, a leading cause of preventable blindness triggered by lack of access to clean water and adequate sanitation. She has led seminal research on the impact of smoking, diabetes, and other factors adversely affecting vision health.

“Sheila West has become an iconic figure in vision research by virtue of massive and continuous contributions to our understanding of the worldwide public health measures needed to protect eyesight. She is both the first woman to serve as the President of the Association for Vision Research in Ophthalmology and the first woman to be a solo Helen Keller Laureate,” said Robert Morris, MD, President of the Helen Keller Foundation for Research and Education.

“This award recognizes a true pioneer in vision research and a trailblazer on behalf of women in science. The Keller Prize is a fitting honor for someone who has led groundbreaking work to save sight around the world,” said BrightFocus Foundation President and CEO Stacy Pagos Haller.

“I am thrilled to receive the 2020 Helen Keller Prize for Vision Research and to join the ranks of such luminaries as John Dowling, Alfred Sommer, Jeremy Nathans, King Wai Yau, and Hugh Taylor. The Prize is especially meaningful to me because it is rewarding research in the eye diseases that afflict the most disadvantaged populations in the world” said Dr. West.