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For Excellence in Vision Science Research, Gerrit Melles, MD, PhD, to Receive 2020 Bressler Prize; Philip D. Kiser, PharmD, PhD, to Receive 2020 Pisart Award

2020 Bressler Prize Recipient Dr. Gerrit Melles

With a clinical focus on the management of corneal disorders and the research and development of new ophthalmic surgical procedures, Dr. Melles has invented several advanced lamellar keratoplasty techniques, including Descemet membrane endothelial keratoplasty (DMEK) and Bowman layer transplantation (BLT), among others.

He has also developed instruments and medical devices required for these techniques, pioneered the use of staining solutions for ophthalmic surgeries and developed SurgiCube® for performing ophthalmic surgeries under sterile conditions in any clinical setting.

“Dr. Melles has revolutionized the field of corneal transplantation and his research is opening new pathways to help people with vision loss lead full and productive lives,” said Alan R. Morse, JD, PhD, President and CEO of Lighthouse Guild

Dr. Melles is the founder and director of a number of organizations specializing in ocular surgery, including the Netherlands Institute for Innovative Ocular Surgery (NIIOS), for the research and development of ophthalmic surgical techniques; the Amnitrans EyeBank Rotterdam; and Amnitrans EyeBank International, a donor tissue organization; the Melles Cornea Clinic Rotterdam; NIIOS Academy, offering post-academic education in advanced lamellar keratoplasty and NIIOS symposia, sharing knowledge and innovations, and NIIOS USA, a NIIOS branch office offering collaborations with American partners to advance research and development.

He received his medical degree at the Medical School, University of Leyden, The Netherlands. During his studies he was also a research fellow at Sharp Cabrillo Hospital in San Diego, California. Dr. Melles completed his residency in Ophthalmology at the University of Nijmegen, The Netherlands, where he also defended his 1995 PhD thesis entitled, “Keratotomy incision dimensions and wound healing.” After being a corneal fellow and staff member at the Rotterdam Eye Hospital, The Netherlands, he founded the Netherlands Institute for Innovative Ocular Surgery (NIIOS).

“I am humbled to be named the recipient of the prestigious Bressler Prize,” said Dr. Melles. “It is an honor to be recognized for my research contributions and believe the Bressler Prize will further energize our efforts to continue to advance procedures and techniques in ophthalmic surgeries.”

A Process of Discovery
About 20 years ago, the treatment of corneal diseases consisted only of penetrating keratoplasties, and the patient’s visual acuity had to drop to a very low level before one would consider this procedure. The outcome was unpredictable and often unsatisfying with respect to visual outcome.

Early in his career, Dr. Melles realized that the inherent ‘flaw’ of penetrating keratoplasty was the replacement of the entire cornea, thus the removal of not only the diseased layer(s), but also healthy layers. He believed that a more selective approach should improve postoperative results. By replacing only the back of the cornea, Dr. Melles could solve the patient’s problem. His work on lamellar transplants has not only helped to improve patient outcomes after corneal transplantation significantly, but it initiated new approaches to treat corneal diseases, such as Fuchs endothelial dystrophy and keratoconus with selective tissue layer transplants.

Awards and Recognition
With the techniques and insights he has produced, Dr. Melles has published more than 200 papers over the course of his career. His work has appeared in leading ophthalmological journals, most notably the publication Cornea.

Dr. Melles has received several awards for his contribution to ophthalmology. Among them are the 2017 Helen Keller Award Laureate, the 2015 Dastgheib Pioneer Award in Ocular Innovation at the Duke University Eye Center, and the American Academy of Ophthalmology Achievement Award in 2009 and 2005.

Since 2003, the Bressler Prize annually has recognized a mid-career vision clinician or scientist whose leadership, research and service have led to substantive advancements in the understanding of vision loss, treatment of eye disease, or the rehabilitation of people with vision loss.

Dr. Melles will receive a prize of $54,000 and lead Lighthouse Guild’s annual Alfred W. Bressler Vision Science Symposium in New York City on October 17, 2020.

2020 Pisart Award Recipient Dr. Philip D. Kiser

Dr. Kiser’s innovative scientific approaches and unique knowledge in the field of carotenoid and retinoid research are advancing our understanding of the visual cycle and associated diseases.

He is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at the University of California Irvine School of Medicine, a member of the UCI Center for Translational Vision Research and is a Research Health Scientist at the Tibor Rubin VA Medical Center in Long Beach, CA.

Dr.  Morse notes, “By recognizing outstanding young clinicians and researchers such as Dr. Kiser, we are supporting vision research that will lead to breakthroughs in prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Dr. Kiser has already made remarkable contributions to the field and we look forward to seeing his future work.”

Dr. Kiser’s research combines a range of innovative biochemical and structural biology approaches to understand the function and catalytic activity of proteins involved in the visual cycle and the maintenance of photoreceptor cells. His contributions are exemplified by his breakthrough work on RPE65. Mutations in RPE65 cause Leber’s congenital amaurosis and other forms of retinitis pigmentosa which are associated with early-onset blindness. Dr. Kiser determined the molecular structure of this enzyme and provided essential insights into the mechanisms of drug interactions with RPE65 to modulate its activity.

This work is at the forefront of modern structural biology and biochemistry and has enormous relevance clinically. Mutations in the corresponding gene can cause a rare but blinding disease, and RPE65 has evolved as an important target of drugs that modify retinoid metabolism in certain disease states. His work significantly contributed to the establishment of the novel drug class of ‘visual cycle modulators’ that are currently in clinical trials.

His work provided a structural foundation for diseases associated with genetic mutations in the RPE65 gene, which are a common cause of early childhood blindness. He recently published a landmark paper that provides the structural basis of the disease.

Awards and Recognition

Dr. Kiser has published more than 50 articles in top-tier peer-reviewed journals, such as the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Nature Chemical Biology, the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Molecular Pharmacology, and PNAS. His research has also been recognized with a number of grants, honors, and awards, including a Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Research Service Career Development Award (CDA2), a March of Dimes Travel Award, a Burroughs-Wellcome Collaborative Research grant.

“I am honored to receive the 2020 Pisart Award,” said Dr. Kiser. “Like the Lighthouse Guild itself, I remain committed to improving the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired, and I look forward to further advancing our understanding of ocular retinoid metabolism, which is at the heart of the visual process.”

The Pisart Award was established in 1981 and has annually recognized an early-career vision clinician, scientist or clinician-scientist whose contributions have the potential to substantially influence vision care and/or vision science and has a proven record of accomplishment.

As the 2020 Pisart Award recipient, Dr. Kiser will receive a $32,000 prize at Lighthouse Guild’s annual Pisart Symposium on October 17, 2020.

Eli Peli, OD, FARVO to Receive 2020 Oberdorfer Award in Low Vision Research

Eli Peli, OD, Senior Scientist and Moakley Scholar in Aging Eye Research, Schepens Eye Research Institute and Professor of Ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School, will receive the Oberdorfer Award in Low Vision Research for 2020. First presented in 2012, the Oberdorfer Award in Low Vision Research is supported by Lighthouse Guild through the ARVO Foundation.

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