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National Eye Institute Remembers Stephen J. Ryan

May 20, 2013

Stephen J. Ryan, M.D., highly regarded for his leadership and tireless advocacy on behalf of the NEI, passed away April 29, 2013.

An internationally recognized expert in retinal diseases and ocular trauma, Ryan was the president of the Doheny Eye Institute, an independent nonprofit institution affiliated with the University of Southern California (USC), from 1974 to 2012. As the first full-time chairman of the USC Department of Ophthalmology, Ryan in 1974 forged the affiliation between Doheny and USC. Today, Doheny is recognized as a premier institution for ophthalmic research, training, and clinical care. Ryan also served as dean of USC’s school of medicine, now called the Keck School of Medicine, from 1991 to 2004.

“Steve poured his life and soul and professional passion into the mission of the Doheny Eye Institute,” said Ronald E. Smith, M.D., chair of the Doheny department of ophthalmology, in a letter to Doheny staff and colleagues. Ryan was an NEI grantee for much of his career, studying the pathogenesis of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). He was a prolific scientist with almost 300 peer-reviewed articles and nine books to his name, including the comprehensive textbook RETINA. Ryan developed several animal models of retinal disease that have facilitated research and informed treatment strategies for AMD and the treatment of retinal detachment due to trauma.

Ryan attended medical school at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. From 1966 to 1970 he was an ophthalmic resident at Hopkins’ Wilmer Ophthalmological Institute under the mentorship of A. Edward Maumenee II, M.D., an instrumental figure in the founding of the NEI in 1968.

“Steve was one of the giants of ophthalmology and, indeed, of medicine,” said NEI Director Paul A. Sieving, M.D., Ph.D. “He had a great impact in many dimensions, including his involvement in the early days of the formation of the NEI. Steve once told me that he would accompany Ed Maumenee in driving from Baltimore to Washington to visit congressional offices and to advocate that the nation should have a medical institute at the NIH with a focus on preserving and treating vision disorders. Steve had an eloquent voice and presentation, and I am sure that he held sway on those occasions. We owe Steve a debt of gratitude for his contribution in establishing NEI.”

Later, as a member of the National Advisory Eye Council from 1982 to 1985, Ryan helped steer the NEI research agenda. In 1997, Ryan established the National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (NAEVR), which advocates for federal support for the NEI. “Steve was as comfortable in the policy arena as he was in science,” said NAEVR Executive Director James Jorkasky.

Ryan was a longtime member and the home secretary of the Institute of Medicine. He received many prestigious awards for his support and leadership of vision research, including the American Academy of Ophthalmology 2012 Laureate Award, the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology Kupfer Award for Distinguished Public Service, and the American Ophthalmological Society Lucien Howe Medal.