The Sanford and Susan Greenberg Center to End Blindness
Founded in October 2021 in partnership with the Johns Hopkins University’s Wilmer Eye Institute, the Sanford and Susan Greenberg Center to End Blindness is the world’s only facility devoted solely to ending this ancient scourge for everyone and for evermore. The Center’s roots trace back to a Detroit hospital in 1961 when Sandy Greenberg, newly blind, made a tikkun olam—a sacred vow to God in his Jewish faith — that he would do everything in his power to make sure others would not have to suffer his same fate.
“It was an insane, adolescent promise,” Greenberg says, “but it stayed with me all this time. The launch of this center means the end of blindness is near.”
To assure continuity with the End Blindness 2020 campaign, Greenberg will work with the same Governing Council and Scientific Advisory Board that were so critical to his earlier initiative.
In a “Declaration of Establishment,” Greenberg laid out the Center’s Founding Principles, below:
Range of Inquiry
The Center will institutionalize and perpetuate the momentum created by the Sanford and Susan Greenberg End Blindness 2020 Prize. Launched in 2012, the Greenberg Prize planted a flag in the future, an aspirational goal for science, medicine, and society as a whole to rally around. The Greenberg Center will build upon that initiative to lead an unprecedented effort across the broad field of human-vision science.
It will bring together medical researchers and research facilities—working in close proximity—to address the broadest practicable range of specialties within ophthalmology: genetics, the optic nervous system, molecular biology, and much more.
Big missions must be buoyed by daring dreams. The Center will also seek to apply the knowledge gained in our end-blindness quest to the whole spectrum of diseases across the entire central nervous system.
Blindness is a biblical misery, while Alzheimers, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and many other conditions are modern names for age-old suffering, but at root they are all equally unfair. The Greenberg Center will strive in every way possible to right the scales of justice across a wide swath of physical inequity.
The Sanford and Susan Greenberg Center to End Blindness will be established physically and administratively within the Johns Hopkins University’s Wilmer Eye Institute — a structure that builds on existing relationships. Dr. Peter McDonnell, William Holland Wilmer Professor of Ophthalmology, is Director of the Wilmer Eye Institute, and Sanford Greenberg serves as Chairman of its Board of Governors. But this is far more than a partnership of convenience.
Of the recent winners of the prestigious awards from the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO), all were from Wilmer. Moreover, Wilmer already harbors some of the most exciting and promising new research endeavors, including the Optic Nerve Regeneration Initiative.
This concentration of researchers and research facilities has the almost priceless benefit of essentially eliminating the isolating “silo” effect targeted by the End Blindness 2020 Prize and communications campaign.
An Institutional Bias Toward Youth
In medical research as in many other fields, the most experienced investigators tend overwhelmingly to garner the greatest rewards — in grants and in compensation. That’s understandable: Age should have its advantages. But the Greenberg End Blindness 2020 Prize has sought to better balance that equation by dividing its monetary awards between accomplishments and potential, and the new Greenberg Center will take that effort an important step further.
History tells us that younger researchers are most likely to contribute new ideas and make big differences in vision science as in other fields, but within the current model of scientific inquiry, such researchers are often forced to abandon high-risk/high-potential initiatives in favor of less risky projects more likely to be funded. To break that cycle, funds from the Greenberg Center to End Blindness will be specifically designated to launching the careers of these young scientists, allowing them to quickly optimize their research results without the confines of grant timelines and restrictions that are present even in the smallest of grants.
Fostering Transformative Research
The Greenberg Center is in the process of creating four rising professorships for young scientists specializing in research toward eliminating blindness and providing a stable source of funds to cover their salary and many other expenses associated with their research for up to seven years each to get their careers — and their potentially transformative research — off the ground.
“That sort of unrestricted support, coming at such a juncture in a young researcher’s career, is critical,” according to Peter McDonnell, director and William Holland Wilmer Professor of Ophthalmology at the Wilmer Eye Institute. “If you’re a young researcher and you’re competing with established, often very famous senior people who have very large research teams, it’s very challenging,” McDonnell says. “Sandy and Sue’s efforts mean that these brilliant young scientists will get up to speed at an age closer to 30 than 50.”
In addition to directly funding early-career researchers, the Greenberg Center will provide mentorship and grant-writing resources to help young scientists apply for competitive federal research grants much earlier in their careers than they previously would have.
“Those of us at Wilmer can imagine no more noble goal to which to dedicate our professional lives than to end blindness,” continues McDonnell. “The Greenbergs have been instrumental partners in this pursuit.”
For a look at Sandy Greenberg’s six-decade quest to end blindness, please see “The Call: The History of an Irresistible Idea.”