Singer Art Garfunkel, Sanford Greenberg, chairman of the Wilmer Eye Institute's Board of Governors, and Jerry I. Speyer, a New York-based real estate tycoon, have joined in donating $2 million in gold bullion to inspire researchers to cure blindness by 2020, establishing through Johns Hopkins Medicine, Baltimore, one of the world's largest prizes for a scientific advancement.
The three men, who were roommates at Columbia University, intend the prize to trigger research into the variety of diseases that cause blindness — 80 percent of which are preventable — in 39 million people around the world. The prize fulfills a promise Greenberg made when he was blinded by glaucoma at age 19.
The Governing Council of the Sanford and Susan Greenberg Prize has selected the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins as the administrator of the Prize. The opening date for nominations for the Prize will be announced later.
Dr. Peter McDonnell, director and ophthalmology professor at the Wilmer Eye Institute, said Friday that the time between this week’s announcement and the day the prize will be awarded is exactly the same period — 2,978 days, from President John F. Kennedy's challenge to put a man on the moon and Neil Armstrong's first steps on its surface. "This is our generation's moonshot," McDonnell said. "We're now within striking distance of being able to end certain blinding diseases."
An independent council will present the prize Dec. 13, 2020, to the individual, team or institution that is determined to have accomplished the most in the next eight years to end blindness worldwide. McDonnell said he can envision researchers and scientists assembling groups that can submit a package of cures to the awards committee, including individuals who specialize in cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, and genetic eye disorders.