By Dirk Hoffman
Published May 4, 2023
Steven J. Fliesler, PhD, was honored with the 2023 Chancellor’s Award Lecture in Neuroscience and Ophthalmology from the Neuroscience Center of Excellence, School of Medicine, Louisiana State University Health New Orleans.
It marks the second time he has received the honor. Fliesler, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Meyer H. Riwchun Endowed Chair Professor of ophthalmology, first received the LSU award in 2017.
“This award lecture was presented to Dr. Fliesler because he has been an innovative and insightful scientist who has opened inroads for the understanding of cell and molecular disease mechanisms that lead to retinal degeneration and that can open therapeutic avenues for the future,” said Nicolas G. Bazan, MD, PhD, Boyd Professor and director of the LSU’s Neuroscience Center of Excellence.
Previous winners include 18 Nobel laureates in physiology and medicine, according to Bazan.
“I have to say that I was quite surprised to be chosen yet again as the recipient for this particular prestigious award. I didn’t even know that that was possible,” Fliesler said. “It is a huge honor, especially considering the list of ‘notables and quotables’ who have preceded me over the years, including several Nobel Prize winners.”
Bazan said he first met Fliesler when he was a graduate student at Rice University and Bazan was a visiting professor at Baylor College of Medicine.
“He used to visit very often because, from early on, he was highly interested in the retina. Since then, I have followed his career with admiration because, progressively, he made major discoveries that have illuminated the field,” Bazan said.
Fliesler serves as vice-chair/director of research in the Department of Ophthalmology in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. He also holds concurrent appointments as a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and in the neuroscience graduate program at the Jacobs School, as well as being a Research Career Scientist at the Buffalo VA Medical Center (VA Western NY Healthcare System).
Bazan said “Fliesler has devoted his talent to leadership as an editor of journals and as a major leader of academic and research organizations in vision sciences and ophthalmology.”
Most recently, he was named the 2022 recipient of the Retina Research Foundation’s Paul Kayser International Award in Retina Research presented by the International Society for Eye Research.
The title of Fliesler’s April 24 talk for the Chancellor’s Lecture was “Hereditary Defects in the Mevalonate Pathway and Retinal Degenerations.”
“I covered an overview of research that has gone on in my laboratory over the course of the past three decades concerning defects in the metabolic pathway by which cholesterol and related molecules are made in every cell and tissue in the body — with a particular emphasis on how such defects impact the normal structure and function of the retina,” Fliesler said
“There are several hereditary diseases involving such defects. I discussed what we know about the mechanism of such diseases, as well as the generation of useful animal and cellular models, that we are using to learn more about the disease mechanism as a prelude to developing therapeutic interventions to prevent, arrest, or retard, or possibly even cure those diseases,” he added.
Fliesler noted that it was quite fortuitous that he happened to be in New Orleans for the annual Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) meeting the same week as the LSU lecture event. He served as president of ARVO from 2018-2019.
“This year’s meeting has been outstanding. There was a robust attendance of nearly 9,700 people! I think people have been so weary of the travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, and they have looked forward to meeting in person again and seeing colleagues from all over the world,” he said.
“I found the plenary talks and all of the other research presentations, both oral and posters, to be absolutely outstanding with some very exciting discoveries emerging,” Fliesler said. “I am particularly proud of our UB faculty and trainees who presented their research there.”