The Academy is honored to present Michael T. Trese, MD, with the 2021 Laureate Award for his seminal contributions to the diagnosis and management of retinopathy of prematurity and pediatric retinal detachment. His contributions span the breadth of genetics, imaging, telemedicine, pharmacology and surgery.
Dr. Trese is widely considered the father of modern pediatric vitreoretinal surgery. He made the simple yet brilliant observation that pediatric retinal detachment, regardless of etiology, is governed by different surgical precepts than adult retinal detachment and revolutionized pediatric vitreoretinal surgery with the concept of lens sparing vitrectomy in the late 1980s. Prior to this epiphany, surgery for complex pediatric retinal detachment due to advanced retinopathy of prematurity was typically unsuccessful. As Dr. Trese refined his techniques, more retinas reattached, the surgical eligibility expanded and a dramatic number of babies recovered functional vision. He subsequently applied these techniques to other diseases such as familial exudative vitreoretinopathy, juvenile X-linked retinoschisis and Coats disease. A dedicated educator, Dr. Trese taught his techniques to a generation of fellows and colleagues. These techniques are now performed worldwide and have restored and preserved sight in untold thousands of children. Few ophthalmologists have had as profound an impact on any disease process as Dr. Trese has had on pediatric retinal detachment. His work defined the new surgical discipline of pediatric retinal surgery.
Dr. Trese’s training in ocular pathology provides him with powerful insights into the pathogenesis of retinal disease. His laboratory’s work stimulated the first Food and Drug Administration-approved drug for pharmacologic vitreolysis. Subsequently, he and his colleagues have explored the concepts of regenerative medicine involving critical cellular signaling pathways in the retina. This work holds great promise for the prevention of visual loss and the restoration of sight. His accomplishments truly reach from laboratory bench to neonatal incubator.
From a health policy perspective, Dr. Trese has championed the need for a telemedical solution that can be applied globally to address the need for timely and accurate screening for retinopathy of prematurity. His work resulted in the development of screening protocols with telemedicine and an educational program called FocusROP that is used throughout the world.
I have had the privilege of working with Dr. Trese on a near daily basis over the past 33 years. During this time, I have witnessed him tackle the toughest retinal diseases with both skill and remarkable empathy. Many times, I have seen him comfort parents distraught over their children’s potential blindness. These are some of the most difficult conversations imaginable, and he always handles them with grace, candor, and compassion. One needs only to visit Dr. Trese’s private office to see what his patients think of him. His office is a collection of children’s drawings and artwork thanking him for the vision he has provided them. His impact on these children’s lives is immeasurable. Dr. Trese is the embodiment of the Academy mission of protecting sight and empowering lives.