Professor Jean Bennett began her lecture on Tuesday by turning off the lights in Bodek Lounge and asking the audience to think about what it would be like to be blind.
“Imagine what it would be like not to be able to see your way around a room. To not be able to see the chair you’re sitting on, the fork on the table, in front of your face,” she said.
Bennett, a professor in the Ophthalmology Department, researches inherited retinal degenerations — specifically a rare disease called Leber Congenital Amaurosis, which causes blindness. She developed innovative treatments involving gene augmentation to treat LCA and improve the vision of clinically blind children.
The drug, which is on track to be released next year, may be the first gene therapy drug to be approved and made clinically available in the U.S. Its success has helped spur renewed interest and investment into gene therapy research.
As part of the drug’s development of , she operated the fir st clinical gene therapy trial for a non-lethal disease to be carried out in children. The first doses of the drug were administered to 12 patients in fall 2007 at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“The fact that the product is the first approved drug of its kind is amazing,” said College and Wharton LSM Freshman Abhishek Rao, who attended the Tuesday lecture. “She is truly blazing new pathways in regulatory approval.”
Philip Rea , a professor of biology at the College and faculty co-director of the LSM program, echoed Rao’s judgment. “Dr. Bennett’s work shows so clearly that intersection between really fine science and ... the process which transforms those very exciting scientific discoveries into innovative therapies for fellow human beings,” he said.
“I would say that all of these Decision Resource lectures are an attempt to identify multiple luminaries who epitomize what we would like to see a significant portion of the students in the program eventually doing, given a reasonable span of time in the horizon, of course,” he added.
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