Florida Trend names UF's Hauswirth top scientist newsmaker of 2009

William W. Hauswirth, Ph.D., a professor in the ophthalmology department at the UF College of Medicine

William W. Hauswirth, Ph.D., a professor in the ophthalmology department at the UF College of Medicine

Gene therapy pioneer William W. Hauswirth, Ph.D., has been named “Florida Newsmaker of the Year” for science in the January 2010 issue of Florida Trend, the statewide magazine for Florida’s leaders.

Hauswirth, a professor of ophthalmic molecular genetics at the College of Medicine and a member of the UF Genetics Institute and the Powell Gene Therapy Center, was part of a team that helped three people born with an incurable form of blindness regain some of their vision. Those results were detailed this year in the New England Journal of Medicine.

He also published research in the journal Nature that showed how gene therapy could cure squirrel monkeys of color blindness — the most common genetic disorder in people. The finding – which was deemed the No. 3 scientific discovery of 2009 by Time magazine — represents a significant step toward curing human vision disorders involving cone cells, which are the most important cells for sight.

“Bill Hauswirth’s influence on the field of gene therapy of the eye is enormous,” said Kenneth I. Berns, M.D., Ph.D., director of the UF Genetics Institute. “He has done the most critical, fundamental work to make possible a successful clinical trial for Leber’s congenital blindness, which strikes children. But his work reaches to acute macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older adults, which has a variety of causes. Bill’s work will profoundly affect our ability to actually cure people with blindness.”

Florida Trend’s Floridian of the Year section includes 22 other notable newsmakers, representing fields such as medicine, tourism, sports, government, philanthropy and the military.

“The editors looked at people who had big impacts on the state during 2009 and embodied the year’s dominant trends,” Florida Trend Publisher Andrew Corty said in a news release.

At least two other newsmakers with ties to UF made Florida Trend’s annual list.

In sports, Gator quarterback Tim Tebow was lauded as much for his humanitarian accomplishments and for setting a fine moral example as his prowess on the grid iron. Meanwhile, state Sen. Paula Dockery, who received her undergraduate and graduate degrees at UF, was recognized as a leading newsmaker in government.