Albrecht von Graefe (1828-1870) is often credited as the founder of modern ophthalmology for his many contributions to the medical field through teaching, practice, invention and discovery. Among his achievements during his 20 years of committed service to ophthalmology, Graefe developed a treatment for chronic iridocyclitis with iridectomy, crafted a special knife to perform linear extraction of cataracts, and was among the first to use the ophthalmoscope to study glaucoma.
Graefe distinguished between three classes of glaucoma: acute, chronic, and simple, and he was the first to use iridectomy to lower intraocular pressure. On September 13, 1857, he reported his findings at the first International Congress of Ophthalmology held in Brussels. His dissemination of the technique established iridectomy as an important treatment, still used today for angle closure glaucoma.
Graefe lost his parents at the age of twelve, but his father, a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Berlin, remained an influence throughout his life. Upon entering university, Graefe took classes from his father’s successor and graduated from medical school in 1847. He then studied across Europe including Paris, Vienna, and London. He returned to Berlin as a fully trained ophthalmologist.
Graefe began his career by opening a small clinic that he advertised as free health care for the poor. His business quickly expanded to a three-story eye hospital where he saw thousands of patients, gave lectures, and performed surgeries. Graefe was a prolific author and corresponded often with collaborators and publishers. When the University of Berlin failed to provide Graefe with enough publication funds he founded his own ophthalmic journal in 1854 and later, in 1857, he established the Deutsche Ophthalmologische Gesellschaft- the first ophthalmic society in the world. Today the society sponsors the Graefe medal.
Albrecht von Graefe succumbed to tuberculosis in 1870 at the age of 42. Throughout his short career, Graefe made lasting contributions to most every subspecialty and tirelessly devoted himself to enriching the field of ophthalmology.