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Robert Machemer

"Robert Machemer became involved in the most vexing problems that confronted retinal surgeons. The work that he did has earned the gratitude of thousands of people throughout the world, not only patients, but the physicians who followed him who now take care of these patients."  -Glenn Jaffe

Youth, Training and Career

Dr. Robert Machemer, (1933-2009) was born in Muenster, Germany. He attended medical school in Freiburg and trained in Ophthalmology at the University of Goettingen.  In 1966 he received a 2-year NATO fellowship, to pursue research training and worked at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute as a Research Fellow under the leadership of Dr. Ed Norton. Dr. Machemer's first faculty position was at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami. He accepted the Chairmanship of the Department of Ophthalmology at Duke University in 1978 and as Chairman, he advanced the department from a clinical center into a first-class clinical and research department. He made new discoveries that changed the world of retinal surgery, especially with his introduction the new surgical technique, pars plana vitrectomy. 

Development of Pars Plana Vitrectomy

Dr. Machemer is best known for his development of pars plana vitrectomy, a surgical procedure which has revolutionized the treatment of posterior segment eye diseases during the last quarter of the twentieth century.

 VIDEO: Robert Machemer's Early Vitrectomy Surgery with VISC 1972      

As a result, patients who were previously hopelessly blind had a chance for vision recovery. By employing a host of instruments and techniques which allowed surgery inside the closed eye, vitrectomy made possible the removal of diseased vitreous and intraocular scar tissue, and elegant reattachment of the retina. Vitreous surgery is now well established worldwide. It is hard to estimate the vast number of patients who have been treated with this surgical technique, including those with diabetic retinopathy, complicated retinal detachments including with proliferative vitreoretinopathy, and severe ocular injuries.

Leadership, Collegiality and Teaching

Robert loved equally surgery, research, instrument development, and teaching. He was a great educator and innovator and published on retinal detachment, vitreoretinal proliferative diseases, novel microsurgical instrumentation and techniques addressing the management of simple and complex vitreoretinal diseases. Many of those who trained with Robert Machemer subsequently moved on to establish their own successful careers, to pursue research to advance the treatment of vitreoretinal diseases and to train others in the US and around the world.

Awards and Honors

Bob Machemer received numerous accolades recognizing his achievements as an innovator including:

Albrecht von Graefe Prize of the German Ophthalmological Society

Ernst Jung Prize 1993

Helen Keller Prize for Vision Research 1997

Gonin Medal of the International Council of Ophthalmology 1998 

American Academy of Ophthalmology Laureate Award 2003


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