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  • The American Academy of Ophthalmology takes special pride in honoring Robert Machemer MD as an inaugural recipient of the Laureate Recognition Award at its 107th Annual Meeting.

    Dr. Machemer is a native of Germany and received his medical degree in Freiburg, Germany. After his residency in Göttingen he came to the United States in 1966 for a research fellowship in retina at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, Florida. He was later offered a faculty position and stayed there until 1978, when he accepted the chairmanship of the Department of Ophthalmology at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. During his 13-year tenure as head, the department enhanced its international reputation, especially in the field of vitreoretinal diseases and surgery.

    During his professional career Dr. Machemer has pursued three major interests: (1) The study and treatment of retinal detachment and proliferative vitreoretinal diseases, (2) the development and refinement of vitreous surgery, and (3) the development of surgical instrumentation.

    Dr. Machemer was the first to establish an experimental model of retinal detachment. He was thus able to study in detail the developing pathology of retinal detachment and the reversal of this pathology with retinal reattachment. He used this model to analyze a major complication of retinal detachment called proliferative vitreoretinopathy (PVR). PVR is an excessive proliferation with membrane formation of mostly pigment epithelium and retinal glia-derived cells. He has developed surgical therapies for the removal of these membranes, and in animal experiments he has shown that steroid therapy is a successful means of suppressing this proliferation. His work is the basis of today's understanding of this disease.

    Dr. Machemer is best known for his development of pars plana vitrectomy. There are many eye diseases that afflict the posterior part of the eye. One of the best examples is diabetic retinopathy with intraocular hemorrhages and scar tissue formation. By developing a host of instruments and techniques that allow surgery inside the closed eye, Dr. Machemer made it possible to remove the diseased vitreous and the intraocular scar tissue. Patients previously considered untreatable suddenly had a chance for sight. Vitreous surgery technique is now established all over the world and has benefited countless patients. The diseases most commonly treated with vitrectomy are diabetic retinopathy, complicated retinal detachments with and without PVR, and severe ocular injuries. Dr. Machemer is truly the pioneer of the most commonly performed and useful procedure in vitreoretinal surgery.

    Dr. Machemer has continued to address eye diseases that might be amenable to surgical therapy. More recently he has made a proposal for the treatment of age-related maculopathy. By surgically translocating the fovea and moving it into a new position, the area of best vision is placed on healthy pigment epithelium. This operation allows recovery or maintenance of visual acuity.

    Dr. Machemer's creative work and leadership in vitreoretinal surgery has been recognized throughout the world, with a list of professional awards and special recognitions too long to enumerate. He has given multiple named lectures worldwide and has been an inspiring teacher and mentor to many vitreoretinal surgeons.

    Dr. Machemer is honored for his distinguished career and contributions to ophthalmology. It is with great pleasure that the Academy welcomes Dr. Robert Machemer as a 2003 Academy Laureate.