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Two NEI Grantees Awarded Helen Keller Prize

May 13, 2015
From left, Johnson-Thompson, Legge, and Massof after presentation of Helen Keller Prize for Vision Research. Photo courtesy of Dustin Hays.

From left, Johnson-Thompson, Legge, and Massof after presentation of Helen Keller Prize for Vision Research. Photo courtesy of Dustin Hays.

Two researchers funded by the National Eye Institute (NEI), both pioneers in the study of low vision, received the Helen Keller Prize for Vision Research on May 5, in Denver. The Helen Keller Foundation for Research and Education, and BrightFocus Foundation, presented the award to Gordon E. Legge, Ph.D., director of the Minnesota Laboratory for Low Vision Research and a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Minnesota, and Robert Massof, Ph.D., professor of ophthalmology and founder/director of the Lions Vision Research and Rehabilitation Center at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.

“The Laureates and their works are mankind’s best response to Helen Keller’s plea, ‘Help me hasten the day when there shall be no preventable blindness,’” said Robert Morris, M.D., president of the Helen Keller Foundation in a press release. Helen Keller’s great-grand-niece, Keller Johnson-Thompson, awarded the prize at a ceremony coinciding with the annual meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology in Denver.

“Both Drs. Legge and Massof have been very committed to the area of low vision rehabilitation during their careers,” said Cheri L. Wiggs, Ph.D., who directs NEI’s grants program in Low Vision and Blindness Rehabilitation. “They have made numerous seminal contributions to the field and much of their work has been supported by NEI,” added Maryann Redford, D.D.S., M.P.H., a program director for Collaborative Clinical Research.

Legge is credited with leading the charge to understand the role of vision in reading, including why different eye diseases result in serious reading problems. Massof led development, testing, and commercialization of the Low Vision Enhancement System (“Elvis”), the first head-mounted video system to aid the visually impaired.

Massof remarked that being named a Helen Keller Laureate is humbling. “I am particularly gratified that by recognizing our work, this award also recognizes the importance of low vision research.”

Legge agreed, saying at the event that it’s also an honor to follow previous awardees, including last year’s winners Drs. Emily Chew and Rick Ferris (see story). “Helen Keller, of course, has been an inspiration particularly to those of us with disability,” he noted.

Together, Legge and Massof received near-continuous NEI grants for more than 70 projects between 1991 and 2015, including individual R01 research projects, R37 MERIT (Method to Extend Research in Time) Awards, and P30 center grants.

Massof remarked that he owes much to NEI. “Without NEI support, the work recognized by this year’s Helen Keller Award would not have been possible,” he said.

To learn more about the award, visit the Helen Keller Foundation web site.