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Science Summit 2021 - Falling Walls Science Summit 7–9 Nov 2021

The Science Breakthroughs of the Year 2021

The value of breakthrough research has hardly ever been more evident as it is the groundbreaking work of scientists that will allow us to overcome the pandemic. We received more than 1000 nominations from 115 countries in the search of the Science Breakthroughs of the Year in 10 categories. The distinguished juries chaired by Helga Nowotny, President Emerita of the European Research Council, have elected the Science Breakthroughs of the Year 2021 in the categories 1-7: Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Engineering and Technology, Social Sciences and Humanities, Art and Science, Future Learning, and Science and Innovation Management.

Breaking the Walls to Restoring Vision for Retinal Degeneration

Vision Restoration for Retinal Degeneration: A Neuroprotective Strategy
by José-Alain Sahel in the category Life Sciences

After successful restoration of visual function in animal models of retinal degeneration (with Botond Roska (IOB, Basel), Dr. Sahel conceived the first-in-man clinical trial combining a biotherapy (photoactivatable optogene channelrhodopsin expressed in retinal ganglion cells) coupled with a stimulation device, and observed the first clinical evidence for vision restoration using optogenetics.

Clinician-scientist at the forefront of several first-in-man clinical investigations in vision restoration, Dr. Sahel conceived the first clinical trial combining photoactivatable optogene and stimulation device, and observed the first clinical evidence for vision restoration by optogenetics. He lead -with D. Palanker and Pixium Vision- the clinical development of a wireless photovoltaic retinal prosthesis, now in clinical trials for AMD, with unprecedented outcomes. Sahel’s team deciphered pathways of cones maintenance mediated by the endogenous protein RdCVF and developed RdCVF into a broad gene-independent neuroprotective therapy, now entering in clinical trial. After demonstration of vision restoration in relevant models of Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, a blinding neurodegenerative disease, Sahel’s group undertook pioneering safety/efficacy clinical studies of AAV2-ND4 gene therapy. Phase III studies are completed in the US and Europe yielding promising results.

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José-Alain Sahel

University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine / Institut de la Vision (Sorbonne Université/Inserm/CNRS)

Dr. José-Alain Sahel is a clinician-scientist who developed a groundbreaking neuroprotective strategy to rescue central vision and first-in-man studies with electronic retinal implants, gene and cell therapies to restore vision in patients with blinding retinal dystrophies. He led the clinical trial documenting for the first time partial visual recovery after optogenetic therapy in a blind patient.

The Foundation

Falling Walls is the unique global hub connecting science, business and society. We shape the future of humanity by impact-oriented ideas and discoveries, driven by our shared dedication for creating breakthroughs across borders and disciplines. As a vessel for the world-changing spirit of 1989 in and beyond Berlin, we are on a relentless pursuit to find out: Which are the next walls to fall?

The MIssion

The crumbling concrete blocks of the Berlin Wall marked the dawn of a new era of freedom by breaking barriers both physical and imaginary on the night of 9 November 1989. The Falling Walls Foundation is channelling this iconic image as a not-for-profit organisation based in Berlin, devoted to the mission of bringing together those who set out to tear down the next walls in science and society. Starting with the inception of our first Conference on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 2009, Falling Walls has become an ever-growing network of the most ambitious and forward-thinking minds from around the globe. Our community is built on outstanding experiences of gathering, learning and the connection to a higher purpose by tackling the greatest challenges of this planet. Together we stand for the freedom of thought and scientific research, and for making ground-breaking ideas accessible to society.

The Work

We create initiatives, innovative real-world spaces and novel digital platforms for future-paving scientific ideas worldwide by utilising a carefully curated blend of sharing information and experiences. We inspire by tapping the wonder and awe inherent in science and by building bridges between those who dedicate their lives to world-changing tasks. We facilitate discourse and cooperation among the global avant-garde of researchers, decision-makers, thinkers, artists, and emerging talents. We believe in the value of dialogue beyond borders, building alliances for a more open, peaceful and sustainable world to live in. Therefore, we enable scientists to share their knowledge with an audience as wide as possible, generating socially and geographically inclusive thinking and impact.

As a science-driven creative organisation with an international and interdisciplinary mindset, we set the highest standards for our work, particularly in upholding the relevance and the quality of our activities to help science engage audiences in innovative and impactful ways.

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