October 13, 2006

New chair bolsters Penn’s eye research

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John Penn, Ph.D.

New chair bolsters Penn’s eye research

John Penn, Ph.D., has been named the first recipient of the Phyllis G. and William B. Snyder, M.D., Chair in Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at Vanderbilt.

The appointment will allow Penn, professor and vice chair of Ophthalmology and director of research for the Vanderbilt Eye Institute, to further grow his research program in retinal angiogenesis.

Angiogenesis is the abnormal growth of new blood vessels, which is a critical feature of several leading causes of blindness, including retinopathy of prematurity, diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration.

“Those are the leading causes of blindness in infants, working-age Americans and the elderly,” said Penn. “When you combine all eye conditions in which angiogenesis plays a critical role, the process of abnormal blood vessel growth accounts for a vast majority of irreversible blindness in developed countries.

“It is a really compelling topic and a great challenge. This endowment will support my lab and allow me to take less conservative approaches in my research program, leading to the potential for greater reward. And it will allow me to prioritize training young researchers in our fight against retinal disorders.”

Penn is pleased to hold the chair honoring Snyder, an ophthalmologist and VUSM alumnus.

“I am particularly proud that our work will be associated with the name of Dr. Snyder, who I have long held in high regard for his contributions to the ophthalmology community,” said Penn.

Penn joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 1998. He received a B.A. from the University of the South in Sewanee and a Ph.D. from the Institute of Molecular Biophysics at Florida State University. His postdoctoral fellowship was completed at Baylor College of Medicine.

“Dr. Penn is one of the premier retinal vascular biologists in the world,” said Paul Sternberg, M.D., chair of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and director of the Vanderbilt Eye Institute. “He is the quintessential translational scientist using his basic science expertise to both understand the mechanisms of vision loss in retinal disorders and to develop new and innovative treatments.

“The Snyder Chair will not only serve as a deserved and meaningful recognition of his numerous contributions, but will provide substantive support for his work in the future.”

Snyder, an ophthalmologist and retinal surgeon in Dallas, is a 1957 graduate of VUSM. Prior to moving to Dallas, Snyder taught at the University of Kentucky, where he received his undergraduate training, and the University of Iowa Medical Center, where he completed his internship and residency in Ophthalmology and fellowship in Retina.

A long-time supporter of Vanderbilt, this most recent endowment follows a named lectureship the Snyders established many years ago for invited guest speakers.

“Dr. Penn's translational research will provide tremendous benefit to future patients with genetic and molecular disorders of the eye,” said Snyder. “As the population ages, we are seeing an explosion of cases of diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration. I would like to see Vanderbilt excel in these areas.”

John Coomer contributed to this story