National Eye Institute director and vision scientist to join UC Davis


Paul A. Sieving, an internationally renowned physician, vision scientist and thought leader in eye care, has been selected to join the faculty of the UC Davis Health Eye Center. He begins his new position this fall.

Since 2001, Sieving has served as the director of the National Eye Institute (NEI), where he managed an $800M budget that supported 550 physicians, researchers and staff.

In 2014 Sieving launched the NEI Audacious Goals Initiative (AGI) for Regenerative Medicine. The 15-year research effort aims to restore function of critical nerve cells in the eye and visual system even after they are damaged by diseases such as age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma. 

“Dr. Sieving brings tremendous strengths in basic research and clinical care that have led to new treatments for patients,” said Lars Berglund, interim dean of the UC Davis School of Medicine. “His expertise complements the exceptional work of UC Davis vision scientists, eye center faculty and researchers across UC Davis who study the genetic components of eye diseases and vision loss and work to develop new treatments. We are very excited to have him join our team.”

As a senior investigator at the National Institutes of Health, Sieving has developed new treatments for retinitis pigmentosa, Stargardt disease and other inherited disorders of the retina and macula – parts of the eye responsible for clear central vision. Studying these conditions in transgenic animal models, he looks for pharmacological approaches to slow the disease process. His work led to the first human clinical trial for retinitis pigmentosa, a rare, genetic disorder in which cells in the retina breakdown and die.

Sieving also is known for developing a treatment for X-linked retinoschisis (XLRS), a form of retinal degeneration that causes central vision loss in children and young adults. His lab developed a mouse model for XLRS and successfully used gene therapy to reverse the condition. He is now conducting studies in patients. 

Sieving will hold the title of professor of ophthalmology and is expected to assume an endowed chair in retinal research at the UC Davis Eye Center. As director of research, he will establish a new Center for Ocular Regenerative Therapy to advance gene-based treatments.

“We are deeply honored to have Dr. Sieving join our faculty,” said Mark Mannis, professor and chair of the Department of Ophthalmology & Vision Science. “UC Davis’ unique combination of resources– from its top-ranked schools of medicine and veterinary medicine, stem cell program and primate center to its world-class EyePod imaging laboratory and robust vision science program -- provides fertile ground for Dr. Sieving’s research and the innovations that improve health. His focus on retinal diseases also aligns with our eye center’s vision for the future.”

“The clinical and vision science faculty at the UC Davis Eye Center  and Center for Vision Science have an outstanding reputation for conducting leading-edge research and treating the breadth of challenging eye conditions," Sieving said. “The strong culture of collaboration within basic science departments and programs across the University of California system create a dynamic environment for advancing science and health. I look forward to working with these remarkable, resourceful and dedicated teams.”

In his public statement about the transition, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins thanked Sieving for his nearly 20 years of “bold leadership and achievement at NEI.” He also described him as “the consummate physician-scientist-administrator who strengthened and led an outstanding research program to advance vision health.” 

Sieving earned his medical degree from the University of Illinois College of Medicine and a Ph.D. in bioengineering from the University of Illinois Graduate College. He completed an ophthalmology residency at the Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary in Chicago, postdoctoral studies of retinal electrophysiology at UC San Francisco, and a clinical fellowship in genetic retinal degenerations at Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.  

Sieving has received many honors and awards. He is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine (2006), and the German National Academy of Sciences (2014).  He was honored with the Research to Prevent Blindness Senior Scientific Investigator Award in 1998, Alcon Research Institute Award in 2000, Pisart Award in Vision Science from the Lighthouse Guild in 2005, and Società Oftalmologica Italiana Honorary Award in Ophthalmology in 2016. 

He also serves as a jury member for the António Champalimaud Vision Award of the €1 million presented yearly in Lisbon, Portugal. He has been elected to many organizations, including the American Ophthalmological Society (1993) and the Academia Ophthalmologica Internationalis (2005).  He has been named among the “Best Doctors in America” for many years.