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Dr. Eric Pierce, Leader in Retinal Degenerations, Genomics and Gene Therapy, Recruited to Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary


Boston (June 1, 2011) — Clinician scientist Eric Pierce, M.D., Ph.D., will join the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and Harvard Department of Ophthalmology in September as Associate Director of the Berman-Gund Laboratory for the Study of Retinal Degenerations, as a clinician and educator, and as Director of the new Ocular Genomics Institute, where he will direct the Genetic Therapies program.

“I take extraordinary pride in welcoming Dr. Pierce, who is one of the preeminent clinician scientists in this important field of ophthalmic disease and research,” said Joan W. Miller, M.D.,Chief of Ophthalmology at Mass. Eye and Ear and Mass. General Hospital and Chair of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. “Bringing him into the department will accelerate our growth into advanced studies in genomic research and gene therapy, and move us another critical step closer to achieving our mission of eliminating blinding diseases,” she said.

The addition of Dr. Pierce to the Mass. Eye and Ear and Harvard Medical School Ophthalmology faculty will facilitate creation of the department’s Ocular Genomics Institute. Dr. Pierce will work in close collaboration with Berman-Gund Laboratory Director Eliot L. Berson, M.D., and Janey Wiggs, M.D., Ph.D., who will direct the Genetic Diagnostics section of the Institute. The development of the Ocular Genomics Institute will bring together investigators from Harvard University and other leading organizations, with the goal of translating the promise of personalized genomic medicine into clinical care for ophthalmic disorders.  

Dr. Pierce’s scientific efforts to date have included groundbreaking work to address retinal degenerations using genetic sequencing and gene therapy methods. The overall goal of Dr. Pierce’s research program has been to improve the understanding of the molecular bases of inherited retinal degenerations (disorders of the back part of the eye) so that rational therapies can be developed for these diseases, which as a group are a common cause of blindness. He developed a research program which identified some of the genes that harbor mutations which cause retinitis pigmentosa, a blinding eye disease, and related disorders, and he continues to work on developing therapies for these and other types of retinal degeneration.  His recent research efforts have focused on the use of next generation DNA sequencing to identify retinal degeneration genes, and to improve genetic diagnostic testing for patients with inherited retinal degeneration disorders.  In addition, he was a member of one of the teams that determined the safety and efficacy of gene transfer for Leber congenital amaurosis, a severe form of retinal degeneration.  
 
“This is a great day for retinal research and the Mass. Eye and Ear, and a bad day for blindness,” said Wycliffe “Wyc” Grousbeck, Chairman of Mass. Eye and Ear. “We are thrilled to welcome a researcher of Dr. Pierce’s stature to a world-renowned institution such as Mass. Eye and Ear. It is part of our ongoing effort to ensure that Mass. Eye and Ear remains at the forefront of research in ophthalmic genetic therapies that will ultimately lead to a cure for blinding diseases that affect millions of people in the United States and around the world.” 

Since 2003 Dr. Pierce has been an active member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Foundation Fighting Blindness, and he became its Chair in 2005. The Foundation Fighting Blindness is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to finding the causes, treatments and cures for retinitis pigmentosa, age-related macular degeneration and retinal degenerative diseases. The organization has raised more than $425 million since its creation, funding thousands of research studies at hundreds of prominent institutions worldwide, and driving research into causes and prevention of retinal degenerations. 

“I have become acquainted with Dr. Pierce’s dedication and his groundbreaking research through his leadership at the Foundation Fighting Blindness. I know that his addition to the Mass. Eye and Ear faculty creates a union that will bring us one step further toward bringing an end to blinding eye conditions,” said Gordon Gund, co-founder and chairman of The Foundation Fighting Blindness.
 
A graduate of Dartmouth College, Dr. Pierce earned a doctorate in biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his medical degree at the Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts Institute of Technology Health Sciences and Technology Division.  After interning at Mass General Hospital, he completed his ophthalmology residency at Mass. Eye and Ear/Harvard Medical School, followed by a combined research-clinical fellowship in pediatric ophthalmology at Children’s Hospital, Boston. Dr. Pierce joined the faculty of Children’s Hospital as a clinician-scientist working in clinical care and angiogenesis research for three years before being recruited to the University of Pennsylvania. In 1999, Dr. Pierce joined the F.M. Kirby Center for Molecular Ophthalmology in the Scheie Eye Institute at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, where he directed his work toward retinal degenerations, was a member of the Division of Ophthalmology at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and attained an appointment as Associate Professor of Ophthalmology.  At Mass. Eye and Ear, he will build on the decades of research and clinical care in retinal degenerations undertaken by Dr. Eliot L. Berson.
 
Founded in 1824, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary is an independent specialty hospital providing patient care for disorders of the eye, ear, nose, throat, head and neck. Mass. Eye and Ear is an international leader in Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology research and a teaching partner of Harvard Medical School. For more information, call 617-523-7900 or visit http://www.masseyeandear.org/