- Haley Wasserman
The T. Boone Pickens Foundation, established by the late Texas energy entrepreneur and philanthropist, is donating $20 million to the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins Medicine. The gift, originally announced in 2013, is one of the largest research donations in Wilmer's history. It will fund vision-saving research and professorships.
Pickens' interest in the treatment and research of eye conditions developed in the 1980s after his father's diagnosis of macular degeneration, a progressive condition that disrupts the central field of vision and causes vision loss. At the time, no treatments existed to prevent decline of his father's healthy vision.
Pickens later publicly disclosed his own battle with macular degeneration and sought treatment from Wilmer for both this condition and cataracts. His care team, which included Walter Stark and Neil Bressler, and which used the latest and most advanced treatments, was able to help Pickens retain most of his eyesight until his death in 2019 at the age of 91.
"Walter Stark, like my dad, had deep Oklahoma roots," says Pickens' daughter, Liz Cordia. "They became fast friends. This friendship ultimately evolved into Walter treating my grandad's glaucoma and my dad's cataracts and later diagnosing his macular degeneration."
In 2005 and 2009, Pickens made gifts totaling $8 million—first to establish the Boone Pickens Professorship of Ophthalmology, currently held by Amir Kashani, and then to help with construction of the Robert H. and Clarice Smith Building to house Wilmer's research laboratories and state of the art operating rooms.
"Mr. Pickens' generous contributions to Wilmer will serve as the foundation on which teams of clinicians, scientists, and engineers will develop novel diagnostic and therapeutic interventions to prevent blindness and improve the health of people around the world," says Kashani.
Along with cutting-edge research and the Boone Pickens Professorship, the $20 million gift from the Pickens Foundation will endow additional Boone Pickens Professorships, specifically for young investigators, called Rising Professorships. The funds will be allocated to researchers who conduct novel, vision-saving research that may be overlooked by other potential funding opportunities.
"The Pickens Rising Professors will be our best and brightest physician-scientists who are early in their careers and exploring their new ideas for improving the care of patients and ending blinding eye diseases," says Peter McDonnell, Wilmer's director. "This transformative gift from our friend, Mr. Pickens, will accelerate our work in artificial intelligence, stem cells, nanotechnology and other exciting new frontiers."
The gift comes after Cordia and Jay Rosser, a foundation representative, visited Wilmer leaders and researchers early this summer to discuss how the donation would be used at the institute and new research spaces under construction at Johns Hopkins.
"Advancing health and medical initiatives that would have impacts spanning generations was a core objective in Boone's giving," Rosser says. "When all is said and done, his philanthropic impact exceeded $1 billion and was directed at some of the world's most cutting-edge research institutions, and the Wilmer Eye Institute stands high on that list."