Published: Jan. 4, 2010
Updated: Jan. 4, 2010
Reporters & producers can visit Duke Medicine News and Communications for contact information.
From Nancy Andrews, dean of Duke University School of Medicine:
Robert Machemer, MD, the pioneering chairman of the ophthalmology department at Duke from 1978 to 1991, passed away on December 23, 2009.
Dr. Machemer is widely recognized for having revolutionized ophthalmic surgery with his invention of vitrectomy. While remembering Dr. Machemer this week, Dr. David Epstein called this invention a truly “‘disruptive technology,’ that made the previously impossible now possible.” The sight of many people around the world has been saved as a result of his innovative research and invention.
In addition to his own research efforts, I’m told that during his 13 years as chairman, Dr. Machemer worked hard to establish a first-class ophthalmological research program at Duke and helped train a new generation of retina specialists. It’s been shared with me that he gave generously of his time and knowledge to fellows and residents, who moved on to establish their own successful careers.
Dr. Epstein shared with me that, in his retirement, Dr. Machemer continued to demonstrate his dedication and loyalty to the department of ophthalmology, and he was honored with the establishment of two Machemer Professorships of Ophthalmology.
Dr. Machemer was born in Germany and came to the United States in 1966 for a research fellowship at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami under Dr. Ed Norton. There, he developed vitrectomy through a process that began with Dr. Machemer experimenting at home with a drill bit and a chicken egg.
In 1978, Dr. Machemer came to Duke University to accept the chairmanship of the Department of Ophthalmology. He retired in 1998.
Our most heartfelt condolences go out to his wife Christel, a former member of the Duke psychiatry faculty, to his daughter Ruth, a former Duke Eye Center research coordinator, and to the rest of his family and his many friends.