2020 Pisart Award Recipient Dr. Philip D. Kiser

Dr. Kiser’s innovative scientific approaches and unique knowledge in the field of carotenoid and retinoid research are advancing our understanding of the visual cycle and associated diseases.

He is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at the University of California Irvine School of Medicine, a member of the UCI Center for Translational Vision Research and is a Research Health Scientist at the Tibor Rubin VA Medical Center in Long Beach, CA.

Dr.  Morse notes, “By recognizing outstanding young clinicians and researchers such as Dr. Kiser, we are supporting vision research that will lead to breakthroughs in prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Dr. Kiser has already made remarkable contributions to the field and we look forward to seeing his future work.”

Dr. Kiser’s research combines a range of innovative biochemical and structural biology approaches to understand the function and catalytic activity of proteins involved in the visual cycle and the maintenance of photoreceptor cells. His contributions are exemplified by his breakthrough work on RPE65. Mutations in RPE65 cause Leber’s congenital amaurosis and other forms of retinitis pigmentosa which are associated with early-onset blindness. Dr. Kiser determined the molecular structure of this enzyme and provided essential insights into the mechanisms of drug interactions with RPE65 to modulate its activity.

This work is at the forefront of modern structural biology and biochemistry and has enormous relevance clinically. Mutations in the corresponding gene can cause a rare but blinding disease, and RPE65 has evolved as an important target of drugs that modify retinoid metabolism in certain disease states. His work significantly contributed to the establishment of the novel drug class of ‘visual cycle modulators’ that are currently in clinical trials.

His work provided a structural foundation for diseases associated with genetic mutations in the RPE65 gene, which are a common cause of early childhood blindness. He recently published a landmark paper that provides the structural basis of the disease.

Awards and Recognition

Dr. Kiser has published more than 50 articles in top-tier peer-reviewed journals, such as the Journal of Biological ChemistryNature Chemical Biology, the Journal of Clinical InvestigationMolecular Pharmacology, and PNAS. His research has also been recognized with a number of grants, honors, and awards, including a Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Research Service Career Development Award (CDA2), a March of Dimes Travel Award, a Burroughs-Wellcome Collaborative Research grant.

“I am honored to receive the 2020 Pisart Award,” said Dr. Kiser. “Like the Lighthouse Guild itself, I remain committed to improving the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired, and I look forward to further advancing our understanding of ocular retinoid metabolism, which is at the heart of the visual process.”

The Pisart Award was established in 1981 and has annually recognized an early-career vision clinician, scientist or clinician-scientist whose contributions have the potential to substantially influence vision care and/or vision science and has a proven record of accomplishment.

As the 2020 Pisart Award recipient, Dr. Kiser will receive a $32,000 prize at Lighthouse Guild’s annual Pisart Symposium on October 17, 2020.