Visionary to receive James Cook Medal


Professor Brien Holden has been recognised for his outstanding contributions to science and humanity by the award of the James Cook Medal from The Royal Society of New South Wales. Holden joins an elite group of recipients that includes Nobel Prize winners, Sir Frank M. Burnet, Albert Schweitzer, and Sir John Eccles, as well as Australian of the Year in 2000, Sir Gustav Nossal. He is the first recipient of the award for 20 years.

Professor of Optometry at the University of New South Wales and CEO of the Brien Holden Vision Institute, Holden’s contributions over the last 40 years include translating scientific research into breakthrough products and tackling the leading causes of blindness and vision impairment through social enterprise and public health initiatives in over 40 countries around the world.

A pioneer in innovative technologies to deal with the most common eye condition, refractive error, Holden is also a global leader through the World Health Organization and the International Agency for Prevention of Blindness, of efforts to eliminate avoidable blindness and vision impairment.

“I am extremely honoured to receive this award and offer my gratitude to my family, my university and my wonderful collaborators in research, education and public health who have provided immense support”, said Holden. “Research and public health initiatives are at the core of what we do, but it is the people I work and live with who provide the heart, soul and drive for our mission. Creative and supportive colleagues in the Institute, collaborators around the world, in the university, the Vision Cooperative Research Centre and industry, have generated immense resources for our research, education and public health programs”.

In a remarkable career, Holden has created a social enterprise that has generated over 160 PhD students, raised over $1 billion in research, education and humanitarian funds, initiated a global campaign to eliminate blindness and impaired vision due to uncorrected refractive error and developed products that have generated over $26 billion in sales for industry and $250 million in royalties for partner institutions. Brien Holden Vision Institute is now the largest vision (correction) research centre in the world.

Currently, Holden is leading a program to develop an effective treatment to slow the progress of myopia in children and young adults and reduce the number of high myopes who are at risk of permanent vision loss. Myopia (short-sightedness) affects 1.5 billion people worldwide, with tens of millions at risk of potentially blinding conditions associated with high myopia. These efforts have so far yielded both contact lenses and spectacles that significantly reduce myopia progression in young children.

Holden added, “This medal is a tribute to all those who have dedicated their lives to vision science and eliminating the disability and poverty associated with unnecessary blindness and impaired vision. Throughout my career I have been very fortunate to work with innovative, dedicated and generous people with a shared vision of providing vision for everyone everywhere and eliminating unnecessary blindness”.

Dr Donald Hector, President, The Royal Society of New South Wales, said, “Professor Holden is a distinguished researcher with an international reputation in optometry, particularly in corneal physiology and contact lenses. He has worked tirelessly in developing countries, especially in east Asia, to lower the prevalence of myopia, a leading cause of blindness.

“In recognition of his outstanding contribution to vision science, The Royal Society of New South Wales is proud to award the 2013 James Cook Medal to Professor Holden”.

Holden will receive the James Cook Medal at The Royal Society of New South Wales’ forthcoming Annual Dinner, to be held on Wednesday, 7 May, 2014.


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About Brien Holden Vision Institute

Brien Holden Vision Institute is a unique self-funding global research, education, licensing and public health organisation dedicated to providing affordable, quality vision and eye health solutions for everyone, everywhere.

We focus on innovation in refractive error correction, the most common eye problem and its seemingly simple solution. With the support of our industry partners, we research and develop breakthrough technologies and products that improve vision. The revenues from this work then allow us to invest in sustainable eye care programs around the world – helping to eliminate vision impairment and avoidable blindness, thereby reducing poverty and suffering.

Through the combination of innovative research with education and service infrastructure, Brien Holden Vision Institute has worked in 54 countries, provided optometric services and glasses to over 2.5 million people at its 429 vision centres and eye care sites, and trained almost 50,000 eye care personnel around the world.