ASRS Awards for 2020

Hadi Kaakour
Vitreoretinal Surgical Fellow
Cole Eye Institute, Cleveland Clinic

At the 2021 ASRS meeting in San Antonio, Texas, the first day of sessions has been off to a wonderful start! As the COVID-19 pandemic prevented our assembly last year, we have both old and new business to cover, and undeterred, the organizers made sure to hold both the 2020 and 2021 Awards Sessions. Today the 2020 awardees were presented with their hard-earned recognitions and gave fabulous lectures.

2020 Pyron Award – Mark Humayun

First up was the 2020 Gertrude D. Pyron Award, which recognizes outstanding vision scientists whose research contributes to knowledge about vitreoretinal disease. The 2020 award was presented to Dr. Mark Humayun, a giant in our midst who needs no introduction. An awardee of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation by former President Barack Obama, Dr. Humayun gave his lecture on Advanced Retinal Implants, a field he has pushed forward for the last few decades. Remarking that complex diseases require a multi-faceted approach, he discussed the latest in bioelectronic implants, as well as RPE stem cell implants that he has been busy at work on.

Agnostic to the type of inherited retinal disease that caused the vision loss in the first place, Dr. Humayun discussed the 256 electrode epiretinal implant, developed by Golden Eye Bionics and IntelliMicro. Now capable of providing a best visual acuity of up to 20/150, we watched as a patient was able to quickly read small letters that just a few years ago would have been unfathomable.

Switching gears to the RPE stem cell implants, Dr. Humayun reviewed both autologous and non-HLA matched RPE transplants as treatment for advanced dry AMD with central geographic atrophy. He described the journey and even how his team went on to make an artificial Bruch’s membrane, for which the transplant RPE cells required to take root; and that even two years later they were histologically present demonstrating phagocytic activity. In fact, out of 15 patients in this cohort, 27% demonstrated improved vision in the treated eyes, where none improved in the fellow eye, and moreover 40% lost vision in the treated eye, while 80% lost vision in the untreated eye. A small and early study for sure, but important work that hopefully will help to usher in a new future of treatment for our patients.

2020 Founders Award – Carl Regillo

Next up was the ASRS Founders award, presented to an individual for outstanding career contributions to vitreoretinal treatment, research, or patient care. Dr. Carl Regillo of Wills Eye – a master of all three criteria – received the 2020 award, and in his award lecture walked the audience through the “Long Journey of the Port Delivery System” (PDS). A true visionary, Dr. Regillo started off by showing a hand drawn sketch of a modified Molteno implant with an intraocular reservoir that he had designed back in 1993 as a fellow. Never letting go of this idea, Dr. Regillo then detailed the many innovations and steps required to make the PDS. He recognized the hard work of many clinicians and scientists, especially the ones who helped the PDS through the “near-death” moments, and described with exciting detail how these pitfalls were narrowly avoided. As he ended his lecture, he described the current updates and future directions for the PDS implant, and left us dreaming and wondering what the future may still hold.

2020 Young Investigators Award – Charles Wycoff

Last up was the 2020 Young Investigators, presented to an individual 45 years or younger who has made contributions- and who still holds the promise to continue to make many more contributions – that will improve people’s lives. The 2020 award winner went to Dr. Charles Wycoff, who presented a biographical reflection titled “Creating Our Future: Lessons Learned from My Journey”. In this talk he outlined 10 lessons that he learned from the incredible mentors that impacted his journey. He implored us to continue to seek out good mentors, ask controversial questions, prioritize patients, and show appreciation to our team members – because without them, none of this would be possible. Focusing on the community we belong to, he reminded us to reach out to one another when times get tough, to collaborate with industry, and to continue to review manuscripts (and not to take it too personally if/when we receive harsh reviewer comments. He tried to convince us that food was overrated, and that we might want to try to fast more – a tough sell, but one that is gaining traction. And lastly, he reminded us to make time for family and friends, to help others through their tough moments with forgiveness and grace, and to always seek the truth while learning from our past.

All in all, it was a riveting session with amazing talks, and a real treat to have both the 2020 and 2021 awardees in one meeting. Till tomorrow!