The American Academy of Ophthalmology is pleased to honor Paul A. Sieving MD, PhD, as the 2020 recipient of its Distinguished Service Award. Dr. Sieving served as the director of the National Eye Institute (NEI) at the National Institutes of Health from 2001 to 2019, overseeing an explosion of scientific discovery and innovation that has been transformative for patient care here and around the globe.
Dr. Sieving is a true polymath. He majored as an undergraduate at Valparaiso University in history and physics before going on to graduate studies in nuclear physics at Yale. Following a minor diversion to Yale Law school, Dr. Sieving matriculated at the University of Illinois College of Medicine and followed his MD with a PhD in biomedical engineering from UIC. He then completed his residency in ophthalmology at the Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary, after which he joined Roy Sternberg’s laboratory at the University of California San Francisco as a post-doctoral fellow.
It was this experience that set Dr. Sieving along the pathway of studying retinal physiology and inherited retinal degenerations, which he cemented with a clinical fellowship year under Eliot Berson at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.
Dr. Sieving then spent the formative years of his illustrious career as a clinician scientist at the University of Michigan and rose to its senior ranks as the Paul R. Lichter Professor of Ophthalmic Genetics. His work offered insight into fundamental retinal physiology, as well as a deeper understanding of a range of inherited retinal disorders, most notably juvenile x-linked retinoschisis. At the peak of his scientific productivity, Dr. Sieving transitioned to the NEI as its second director.
At the NEI, Dr. Sieving continued his groundbreaking work using transgenic animal models of retinal disease that has culminated in innovations that include a gene therapy in-human trial for juvenile x-linked retinoschisis. Moreover, as the NEI director over the course of nearly two decades, Dr. Sieving had a profound impact on basic and translational vision science worldwide. He was judicious in balancing the portfolio of the NEI’s intramural programs with enthusiastic support for innovative science blossoming in institutions across the country.
Dr. Sieving was committed to supporting established investigators and passionate about nurturing the next generation of vision scientists through mentored awards and grant support. His foresight in launching the NEI Audacious Goals Initiative for Regenerative Medicine promises to pay off in translational discovery relevant to the leading causes of blindness and visual disability for decades to come.
Now the Neil and M.J. Kelly Presidential Endowed Chair in Vitreoretinal Research at the University of California, Davis and an elected member of the U.S. National Academy of Medicine, Dr. Sieving has made monumental contributions to vision research and patient care. We applaud him as the 2020 recipient of the Academy’s Distinguished Service Award.