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.