The Power List 2020 – Power List
Professor and Chair, Department of Ophthalmology, Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Germany
Your three wishes?
A cure for choroidal melanoma (for example using system medicine); worldwide reduction and prevention of diabetic eye disease; better understanding of retinal vascular diseases including familial exudative vitreoretinopahy (FEVR), Coats, and Eales diseases.
Piece of advice for your younger self?
Despite VR surgery being such a gratifying occupation, without an understanding of disease mechanisms there won’t be any progress in ophthalmology, and medicine in general. Thus basic clinical research must remain the most critical part throughout your career.
The most serendipitous moment of your career?
When I was a medical student in Heidelberg, Judah Folkman gave a presentation about tumor angiogenesis. That caught my attention, and the interest in vascular pathology has never stopped since. I was lucky enough to do my postdoc in his lab, where we were able to investigate, for the first time in rodents, the same substances (such as VEGF antibodies, Angiopoietin-1 antibodies) in AMD and diabetes models that later entered the clinics. The atmosphere in the labs was thrilling because we had the proof of principle.
The most unexpected turn your career took?
In my PhD thesis I looked at corneal neovascularization, and I planned to become a cornea specialist. After returning from the US, I had the chance to get into VR surgery, and switched topics. Retina was also a perfect fit for the research focus on diabetes and vascular disease. I have never regretted that step. From retina, it was possible to expand to ocular oncology, which is currently about half of my clinical activity.