José-Alain Sahel Technological Innovation Liliane Bettencourt (2015-2016)


Born July 12, 1955 in Tlemcen (Algeria).

José-Alain Sahel studied medicine at the Medical School of Paris University and ophthalmology at the University of Strasbourg and at Harvard University (Boston-Cambridge, USA). He was appointed Professor of Ophthalmology at the University Louis Pasteur, Strasbourg. Currently, José-Alain Sahel is Professor of Ophthalmology at Pierre and Marie Curie University Medical School, Paris, France and Cumberlege Professor of Biomedical Sciences at the Institute of Ophthalmology-University College London, UK. He chairs the Departments of Ophthalmology at the Quinze-Vingts National Eye Hospital and at the Rothschild Ophthalmology Foundation (Paris, France).

The primary focus of Sahel’s fundamental and clinical research is the understanding of the mechanisms associated with retinal degeneration, together with the conception, development and evaluation of innovative treatments for retinal diseases, with a special focus on genetic rod-cone dystrophies (e.g. neuroprotection, stem cells, gene therapy, pharmacology, and artificial retina). The group of José-Alain Sahel (with Saddek Mohand-Said and Thierry Léveillard) was the first to hypothesize and demonstrate that rod photoreceptors produce a protein that rescues cone photoreceptors, thereby maintaining light-adapted and high-resolution vision. This molecule, Rod-derived Cone Viability Factor (RdCVF), is now in translation into a possible therapeutic agent to save cones and treat a spectrum of retinal degenerative diseases. Once rods and cones have degenerated, optogenetics -a promising novel therapeutic strategy- provides alternative to restore vision. Sahel‘s group (with Serge Picaud and Botond Roska at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research) demonstrated that different retinal cell types such as “dormant cones” can be converted into “artificial photoreceptors” by targeting the expression of genetically encoded light sensors enabling mice with retinal degeneration to perform visually guided behaviors. Besides research on developmental biology, functional genomics, physiology and therapeutics, Sahel’s laboratory (with Michel Paques, Saddek Mohand-Said and Isabelle Audo) conducts research on genotype-phenotype correlations with high resolution in vivo non-invasive high-resolution retinal imaging techniques (optical coherence tomography and adaptive optics) aiming at identifying patients eligible for clinical application of innovative therapies. Together with Mathis Fink (Institut Langevin) he is the principal investigator of a very large ERC-synergy grant aiming at developing novel technologies for morpho-functional imaging of the visual system.

José-Alain Sahel is founder and director of the Institut de la Vision in Paris, a site for translational research on treatments for currently untreatable inherited and age-related ocular diseases that comprises 18 principal investigators and more than 250 staff members, and functions in synergy with the Quinze-Vingts National Eye Hospital. He coordinates the Paris-based Ophthalmology Clinical Investigation Center, overseeing more than 50 clinical trials, some of them within the most advanced areas of biomedical technologies worldwide, such as retinal implants and gene therapy. José-Alain Sahel heads the National Reference Center for Retinal Dystrophies and chairs a network of more than 90 European clinical trial centers on retinal diseases. He published over 300 peer-reviewed articles and co-authored more than 20 patents. He was a founder of Fovea pharmaceuticals, which became the ophthalmological division of Sanofi, and is a scientific co-founder of GenSight Biologics and Pixium Vision.

Awards and Distinctions

José-Alain Sahel has been the recipient of numerous awards, including:

  • Foundation Fighting Blindness (FFB) Trustee Award (2005),
  • Emilia Valori Grand Prix of the French Academy of Sciences (2005),
  • The Institut de France’s Fondation NRJ Grand Prix scientifique (2006),
  • Alcon Research Institute Alumni Award for Excellence in Vision Research (2006),
  • The Altran Foundation Innovation Award (2007),
  • Gold Medal of the University Pierre et Marie Curie (2008),
  • Jules Gonin Prize of the Retina Research Foundation (2012),
  • CNRS Medal of Innovation (2012),
  • Prix Inter-Optiques (2014),
  • Prix Chaptal of the French Industry (2014),
  • Special Recognition Award Retina International (2014),
  • Foundation Fighting Blindness (FFB) Llura Liggett Gund Award (2015),
  • Prix Opecst-Inserm (2015),
  • Prix Alfred Monnier (2015).

He is:

  • Honorary Member of the Deutsche Ophthalmologische Gesellschaft,
  • Knight of the Legion of Honor,
  • Officer of the National Order of Merit,
  • Honoris Causa Doctorate of the University of Geneva.

José-Alain Sahel was elected to the European Academy of Ophthalmology (2006), the Academia Ophthalmologia Internationalis (2007), the Academy of Sciences-Institut de France (2007) and the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina (2014).