Botond Roska, MD, PhD, professor of medicine at the University of Basel, Switzerland; director, Institute of Molecular and Clinical Ophthalmology Basel; and senior group leader, Friedrich Miescher Institute, will deliver the first presentation in the 2018 Senior Vice Chancellor’s Laureate Lecture Series, a yearlong program featuring top biomedical researchers in their fields. Roska’s talk, “The First Steps in Vision,” will be delivered at 4 p.m. on Thursday, May 10, in Scaife Hall, Lecture Room 6. This seminar series is open to the public, including all interested University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University faculty, students, and staff. Arthur S. Levine, MD, Pitt’s senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of Medicine, will introduce Roska and lead the discussion following the lecture.

Roska studies the structure and function of visual circuits, seeking new ways to repair visual dysfunction in patients with retinal diseases like retinitis pigmentosa. Using the mammalian retina as a model system, Roska and colleagues investigate how neurons interact in local neuronal networks to compute behaviorally relevant functions. He and his lab members work across the areas of mouse genetics, viral tracing, molecular biology, electrophysiology, computational techniques, and more to better understand the circuitry behind and the different stages of visual processing. They are investigating the cell types within and functional circuitry of the retina, thalamus, and cortex using a combination of physiological and molecular biological tools, many of which he and his team have invented. His lab is also developing human retinal disease models using induced pluripotent stem cells and employing the use of artificial photoreceptors to reactivate retinal function. Using optogenetic tools and other techniques, Roska seeks to restore retinal photosensitivity in patients and, ultimately, to translate research findings into effective treatments for retinal diseases.

Roska received his MD from the Semmelweis Medical School in Budapest, Hungary, and his neurobiology PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, where he trained with Frank Werblin, PhD. Roska completed a genetics fellowship at Harvard University with Constance Cepko, PhD, and Markus Meister, PhD. He began his scientific career as in investigator at Switzerland’s Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research in 2005 before joining the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Basel in 2014.

Roska cofounded the optogenetic therapies biotech company GenSight Biologics and is named as an inventor on some two dozen patents. He has received numerous honors, including a Fulbright fellowship, an EMBO Young Investigator Award, the 2013 Alfred Vogt Award in Ophthalmology, the 2016 Cogan Award from the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, and the 2018 Bressler Prize.