Dr. John R. Guy, leading expert in neuro-ophthalmology, passes away

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John R. Guy, M.D., a Bascom Palmer Eye Institute professor of ophthalmology, holder of the Rodgers Research Chair in Ophthalmology, and one of the world's leading experts in the field of neuro-ophthalmology, passed away on May 26 while visiting his mother in New York. He was 68.

“John Guy was a brilliant physician-scientist, known for his pioneering gene therapy research for the treatment of Leber hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON), as well as his research on optic neuritis, multiple sclerosis and other diseases caused by mutations in mitochondrial DNA,” said Eduardo C. Alfonso, M.D., Kathleen and Stanley J. Glaser Chair in Ophthalmology, and director of Bascom Palmer Eye Institute.

Dr. John R. Guy

Byron L. Lam, M.D., the Robert Z. & Nancy J. Greene Chair in Ophthalmology, described his friend and colleague: “John was an extraordinary top-notch scientist deeply devoted to the pathophysiology and treatment of optic nerve disease. We will always remember his contributions and miss his intellectual stimulation and understated quirky humor. John’s unexpected passing is an irreplaceable loss to the field of neuro-ophthalmology.”

Dr. Guy grew up in Queens, New York. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from New York University and his M.D. from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. He trained in neurology at Temple University Medical Center, and completed an ophthalmology residency at Georgetown University Medical Center. He later completed a fellowship in neuro-ophthalmology at Wills Eye Hospital and an observership in orbital surgery at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, England.

He began his academic career at the University of Florida in 1983 where he was twice named the Department of Ophthalmology’s Teacher of the Year, and was ultimately awarded the Dean’s Distinguished Professor in Neuro-Ophthalmology. He joined Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in 2008.

“Our hearts are heavy to learn of the passing of John Guy,” said David T. Tse, M.D., The Nasser Ibrahim Al-Rashid Chair in Ophthalmology. “John was a man of uncommon wisdom. He was a beam of light not only as an incredible scientist, neuro-ophthalmologist, scholar, inventor, teacher, and above all else – a caring physician. His legacy will live on and he will be greatly missed.”

Having studied Leber hereditary optic neuropathy for more than 20 years, Dr. Guy’s experience and knowledge are unparalleled. He pioneered a novel technological treatment for the blinding inherited genetic disorder. By successfully modifying a virus, Dr. Guy and his team were able to introduce healthy genes in the mitochondria to correct the genetic defect. Doing so prevented the deterioration of the retinal cells forming the optic nerve. This research demonstrated that when efficiently introduced into mitochondria, normal DNA can correct a biochemical defect in cellular energy production and restore visual function.

Dr. Guy’s approach to treating LHON exhibited the immense potential for gene therapy applications for many diseases similarly caused by mutations in mitochondrial DNA, not limited to the eye. The revolutionary gene therapy conducted by Dr. Guy and his colleagues may provide the platform to treat other blinding and life-threatening conditions including cancers, Parkinson’s disease, aging, macular degeneration, and glaucoma.

Ceaselessly proving himself as an esteemed researcher and physician, Dr. Guy’s research has been supported by the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health. At the time of his death he held four awards including a $6 million U10 grant, a recent $1 million R24 grant on mito-targeted AAV to treat LHON caused by ND4 mutation, and two R01 basic research awards. A prolific researcher, he published more than 260 peer-reviewed articles and abstracts and has given more than 135 presentations at national and international meetings. Dr. Guy received the Research to Prevent Blindness Physician-Scientist Award in 2004 and was honored with the Cless Best of the Best Award from the American Academy of Ophthalmology in 2010.

“I met John Guy 40 years ago,” said Norman Schatz, M.D. professor of ophthalmology. “John was a neurology resident at Temple University when he came to our clinic at Wills Eye for elective and stayed for a fellowship in neuro-ophthalmology. He has never really left my side since that time. We enjoyed collegiality of intellect and a laughter of cynicism. John’s thirst for knowledge compelled him to be boarded in both neurology and ophthalmology, as he carved his way in the world of science. His achievements were remarkable and he will be missed. After work at Bascom Palmer, John and I held court for residents and fellows at the River Oyster House, where the learning continued. There will be an empty seat next to me saved for John with all the warmth of my heart. I will miss him.”

John is survived by his wife, Helen. He was a world-class scholar. His personality was endearing. His patients valued his expertise and his colleagues respected his unparalleled excellence in clinical and scientific research. He will be greatly missed by everyone who had the honor of working with him.