Pioneering Eye Surgeon Lauded by Peers

September 03, 2003

A physician at the University of Rochester Eye Institute who is a pioneer in the world of refractive surgery – laser surgery to improve vision – has been selected by surgeons around the world to receive one of the field’s top awards.

Scott MacRae, M.D., professor of ophthalmology and visual science at the University of Rochester Medical Center and medical director at Strong Vision, will receive the Lans Award this fall, at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the International Society of Refractive Surgery.

MacRae is one of a handful of physicians ushering in a new era of vision correction with a technique known as customized ablation. MacRae has been instrumental in creating and refining the technique, in which doctors use a laser to precisely tailor the cornea to compensate for the most minute imperfections deep within a person’s eye. In one large study by MacRae and colleagues, more than 91 percent of patients’ eyes ended up with vision of 20/20 or better, and 97 percent of patients said they had “marked” or “extreme” improvement in their vision.

Several dozen residents in the Rochester area were among the first patients anywhere to have the surgery, through research studies conducted by MacRae.

The entire field is based largely on early work by scientist David Williams, who heads the university’s Center for Visual Science. Williams’ team was the first to design and build a new system using a laser beam to allow doctors to see the inside of the human eye in extraordinary detail. Using the same technology that allows astronomers to remove the twinkle from starlight, Williams discovered dozens of previously unknown imperfections in the human eye. The work made it possible for the first time to correct for more than 60 eye imperfections, not just the two or three that doctors have been correcting for more than a century. MacRae was among the first surgeons to use that knowledge to correct a patient’s vision.

MacRae is the author of “Customized Corneal Ablation: The Quest for Supervision,” the first book to put forth the basic science underlying customized vision and its clinical potential. He has also been appointed senior associate editor of the Journal of Refractive Surgery, where he evaluates the latest research findings from around the world.

MacRae has also helped set safety standards for the procedure, and he has taught other physicians about customized ablation.  In his practice MacRae measures every patient’s pupils three different times using three separate systems. He also makes three measurements of the thickness of the cornea, another crucial element in deciding who is a good candidate for refractive surgery. He recently discovered that the size of the section of the cornea treated by surgeons is crucial to how well patients see after refractive surgery.

The Lans Award, given to an outstanding and innovative researcher in the field of refractive surgery, is named after Jan Lans, a Dutch physician who did early work on surgical correction of astigmatism and helped to define the field of refractive surgery. Past winners have included the world’s top refractive surgeons, including the doctor who invented the LASIK procedure.

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