UArizona Inventor Wins Back-to-Back Arizona Top Innovator Recognitions

Oct. 14, 2021

UArizona faculty behind novel lens for cataract patients was honored at innovation ecosystem events in Phoenix and Tucson

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Left to right: Jim Schwiegerling and Karla Morales, Chairwoman of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Photo credit: Dominic Ortega Left to right: Jim Schwiegerling and Karla Morales, Chairwoman of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Published October 7, 2021. Updated October 14, 2021, 11:05 AM

TUCSON, Ariz. – On October 13, 2021, Jim Schwiegerling, a professor and inventor with the University of Arizona James C. Wyant College of Optical Sciences, was honored as Innovator of the Year – Academia at the Governor’s Celebration of Innovation. Hosted by the Arizona Technology Council (AZTC) and the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA), the event recognizes the contributions and excellence of innovators in industry, academic research and STEM education from around the state. The award came in quick succession following Schwiegerling’s being named as the Inventor of the Year at the Southern Arizona Tech + Business Expo in Tucson one week before on October 6.

“Seeing my technology evolve from an idea in the laboratory to a product that improves the vision of many people around the globe has been extremely rewarding,” Schwiegerling said. “Receiving this recognition from AZTC and ACA is truly an honor and very humbling.”

Schwiegerling developed a trifocal implantable cataract replacement lens for the eye that allows for distance, mid-range, and near vision, possibly eliminating the need for glasses or contacts for some.

“Jim is an extraordinary individual both as an innovator and as an educator – I’m thrilled to see this recognition of his impact," said Thomas L. Koch, Dean of the Wyant College of Optical Sciences. "This serves as a great example of how optics can improve the quality of our lives at a very personal level."

With support from Tech Launch Arizona (TLA), the University of Arizona office that commercializes inventions created from UArizona research, patents were filed and granted to the Arizona Board of Regents. TLA then partnered with Alcon, a global medical device company specializing in eye care products and one of the largest producers of intraocular lenses in the world, providing the company a license to use the technology in its products.

“Alcon incorporated the patented technology in its novel trifocal intraocular lens, PanOptix, launched in Europe in 2015. Eventually, PanOptix was approved for use in countries around the world, but it wasn't until summer 2019 that the last two major countries – the United States and Japan – approved the use of the new lenses.

“Jim embodies the best of what UArizona research can give rise to in the world,” says TLA Assistant Vice President Douglas Hockstad. “We often say that our goal is to bring university inventions to the public for a better world and better lives, and our collaboration with him and the subsequent partnership with Alcon are doing exactly that.”

Schwiegerling developed cataracts several years ago, he said, but because PanOptix wasn’t yet available in the U.S., he traveled to Germany to get them implanted for himself.

"So I’m a user and not just a maker,” he said. “I am thrilled with being able to do my outdoor activities, work at the computer, and read without being encumbered by glasses. I see like I am young again."

About a million people around the world have now received Alcon’s PanOptix lenses.

Other finalists for the GCOI Innovator of the Year - Academia category included the UArizona BIO5 Institute and optical sciences professor Hong Hua. In addition UArizona startup SaiOx, Inc., was one of four finalists in the Innovator of the Year - Startup category. 

Paul Tumarkin, Assistant Director, Marketing & Communications