History

Charles L. Schepens, M.D. is known as the “father of modern retinal surgery.”  A half-century ago, even while running a busy clinical practice, he saw the need for a research organization dedicated to exploring new ways to treat incurable eye disorders.

Originally called the Retina Foundation, the Institute he founded in 1950 is now named in his honor and is one of the largest eye research organization in the nation. The Institute has trained hundreds of scientists and physicians who work around the world, and created an innovative research environment that has led to innumerable scientific breakthroughs.  The Schepens Eye Research Institute, Mass. Eye and Ear is an enduring expression of Dr. Schepens’ life as a visionary and compassionate clinician, educator and researcher.

In November of 1993, Dr. Schepens welcomed J. Wayne Streilein, M.D. as the Director of Research.  Dr. Streilein, a noted ocular immunologist, shaped a renewed research mission that brought the entire spectrum of the biological sciences to bear on vision research.  Under his leadership, first as Director of Research and then as President, the Institute’s research program expanded to include important new technologies such as gene therapy, stem cell research, nerve regeneration and tissue engineering.  After Dr. Streilein's untimely passing in 2004, Michael S. Gilmore, Ph.D. was named President and Ankeny Director of Research. Dr. Gilmore, a noted expert on novel ways to prevent and treat antibiotic resistant infections, led the Institute for five years before making the decision to focus solely on his research projects. In September, 2009, Kenneth M. Fischer assumed the dual roles of President and Chief Operating Officer. Under his leadership the Institute continued its long tradition of research excellence, and visionary innovation.

The position of Director of Research is currently held by Patricia A. D'Amore, Ph.D., M.B.A. Dr. D’Amore is Professor of Ophthalmology and Pathology at Harvard Medical School (HMS), HMS Ophthalmology Vice Chair of Basic Research, and Senior Scientist and Ankeny Scholar of Retinal Molecular Biology at Schepens. As director, Dr. D’Amore serves as the senior leader at Schepens and as a member of the Mass. Eye and Ear research leadership team.

As an internationally recognized expert in vascular growth and development, Dr. D’Amore’s investigations have led to a deeper understanding of the molecular basis of eye diseases, and helped form the foundations of vascular targeting therapies. Her opus of work uncovered important physiological roles of vascular growth factors, and yielded crucial insight into the safe use of antiangiogenic therapies. She contributed to the development of vascular-targeting therapies (VEGF inhibitors) - and today, these therapies are used to treat various cancers and retinal disease, including age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, and have helped millions of people avoid blindness.

On June 30, 2011, The Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and Schepens Eye Research Institute combined forces to create one of the world’s largest and most robust basic and clinical ophthalmology research enterprise with full spectrum bench-to-bedside research that will translate more quickly into better treatment for blinding diseases and ultimately cures. Under the direction of the Mass. Eye and Ear Board of Directors, the combined Institutes have long traditions of clinical and research excellence. Their areas of expertise and technology are complementary and will be strengthened by this collaboration. Basic research at Schepens Eye Research Institute and clinical research at Mass. Eye and Ear will be enriched by each other’s respective strengths.

One of the most important academic relationships that the Institute enjoys is its affiliation with Harvard Medical School, which was formalized in 1991.  Since that time, the Institute has established several endowed professorships in the Department of Ophthalmology, including the Charles L. Schepens Professorship. In 2001, the Institute established the Alice J. Adler Fellowship at Harvard Medical School.  This fellowship, which is awarded each year to a talented young scientist who conducts research in vision and ophthalmology, was created through the 50th Anniversary Program for Scholars in Medicine at Harvard Medical School.  This fellowship program joins the many training programs and joint research programs, which join the Institute to the Medical School and the other members of the family of affiliates.

From its humble beginnings in a West End tenement building to its current position as one of the nation’s largest research organization, Schepens Eye Research Institute, Massachusetts Eye and Ear continues, through a continuum of discovery, to work toward a future in which blindness is prevented, alleviated and, ultimately, cured.