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T. Boone Pickens Foundation donates $20 million to Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins Medicine

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According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the gift brings T. Boone Pickens’ total donations to Wilmer to more than $28 million.

T. Boone Pickens in the atrium of the Robert H. and Clarice Smith Building, Wilmer Eye Institute. Pickens contributed funds to the building's construction in 2009. (Image courtesy of Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins Medicine)

T. Boone Pickens in the atrium of the Robert H. and Clarice Smith Building, Wilmer Eye Institute. Pickens contributed funds to the building's construction in 2009. (Image courtesy of Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins Medicine)

The T. Boone Pickens Foundation, established by the late, Texan innovative energy leader and philanthropist, is donating $20 million to the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins Medicine. The gift, announced in 2013, is one of the largest research donations in Wilmer’s history. It will fund vision-saving research and a professorship.

According to a news release from the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins Medicine, 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.

The news release noted Pickens would later publicly disclose his own battle with macular degeneration. The philanthropist then sought treatment from Wilmer for both this condition as well as cataracts. He was treated by a team that included Walter Stark, MD, and Neil Bressler, MD, and the 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,” Pickens’ daughter, Liz Cordia, said in a statement. “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.”

According to the news release, Pickens made gifts totaling $8 millionin 2005 and 2009 — first to establish the Boone Pickens Professorship of Ophthalmology, currently held by Amir Kashani, MD, PhD, 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,” Kashani said in the news release.

Along with the Boone Pickens Professorship and cutting-edge research, the $20 million gift from the Pickens Foundation will endow additional Boone Pickens Professorships, specifically for young investigators, called Rising Professorships. According to the news release, he funds will be allocated to researchers who conduct novel, vision-saving research that may be overlooked by other potential funding opportunities.

Peter McDonnell, MD, Wilmer’s director and co-chief medical editor of Ophthalmology Times, lauded the donation and the impact it will have at Wilmer.

”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” he said in the news release. “This transformative gift from our friend, Mr. Pickens, will accelerate our work in artificial intelligence, stem cells, nanotechnology and other exciting new frontiers.”

The latest financial gift was made 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 concluded in the statement. “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."

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