To contact us phone:  +61 2 9385 7517

Professor Jean-Marie Parel at Vision CRC and Brien Holden Vision Institute in 2005

Research giant redefines possibilities in eye surgery

Miami, US, 8 April 2015: Over the last 40 years, Professor Jean-Marie Parel, leading researcher, has been redefining what’s possible in eye surgery through breakthroughs in techniques and instrumentation.

Known as the father of the “phaco‐ersatz” surgical technique, Professor Parel has also been a pioneer in retinal surgery, development of keratoprostheses, use of lasers in ophthalmology and shunts for glaucoma surgery – helping to transform modern ophthalmology practise.

If you are one of those who would like to throw away those reading glasses and have your vision restored to that of a 20 year-old, Professor Parel is on the case. The “phaco‐ersatz” technique was a breakthrough that allows the replacement of the opaque lens that develops with cataract with an elastic polymeric material. The technique also provides an avenue for replacing the aged lens of the presbyopic eye, a goal Professor Parel and his team at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute (BPEI), rated the leading eye hospital in the US for the last 11 years, have been working on since the early 1980’s.

Originally from France, he served seven years at the Department of Ophthalmology, Melbourne University, Australia, under the mentorship of Professor GW Crock, before taking up a position with BPEI at University of Miami School of Medicine in 1970. BPEI’s Ophthalmic Biophysics Laboratory, which Professor Parel co-founded with BPEI founder Professor Edward W D Norton, and is now Director of, has developed an incredible 350 ophthalmic devices and instruments for use in surgery and research.

Modern retinal surgery has been made possible by his engineering work on the development of the first practical vitrectomy apparatus, which enabled eye surgeons access to the vitreous body. For people with untreated corneal blindness, Professor Parel’s development of keratoprostheses and continuous improvements have been vital in restoring vision. This includes identifying the biomaterial for the artificial cornea and developing the design that produces minimal inflammation and fibrosis.

Professor Parel has also been a leader in the use of lasers in ophthalmology, developing new technologies and investigating the biological mechanisms of the laser effects, resulting in superior laser therapies of the anterior and posterior segments of the eye such as corneal and scleral incisions and welding, trabeculoplasty and retinal reattachment.

Other research projects, illustrating the vast breadth of his achievements, include development of glaucoma shunts, tear-film measurements, ultrasonography and investigations into intraocular infections.

Professor Parel has also led efforts to bring together researchers from around the globe to advance patient care. He was instrumental in establishing the KPro Study Group in 1990, an international group of researchers fostering clinical and basic research on keratoprosthesis, synthetic corneas and artificial corneal implants.

This collaborative inclination saw him also involved in the formation of the Accommodation Club in 1989 along with colleagues Okihiro Nishi (Japan), Frits Treffers (The Netherlands), Eduard Haefliger (Switzerland), Professor Edward WD Norton (US) and Professor Joaquin Barraquer (Spain). The club is an open forum, promoting knowledge and understanding of lens accommodation among researchers, with the goal of providing normal vision at all distances to presbyopic and cataract patients. The 1992 meeting saw Professor Brien Holden attending and joining forces with Professor Parel and BPEI on the long-standing Accommodating Gel project.

Professor Parel also co-founded the Ophthalmic Technologies conference in 1990 as an open forum to introduce and discuss new technologies, with the sole purpose of improving patient eye care. The meeting covers advances in a broad range of areas, from optical instruments such as optical coherence tomography and scanning laser ophthalmoscopy to photodynamic therapy, photocrosslinking of cornea and sclera, biodegradable controlled drug release implants, plasma knifes to cut retinal membranes, femtosecond cornea and cataract surgery and retinal implants to give vision to the blind in cases of retinitis pigmentosa.

“It’s the only meeting where clinicians can stand up or come up to the podium to describe their clinical problem to opto-electro-mechanical engineers, scientists, physicist, biophysicists, and now vision scientists, with the hope that members of the audience will de facto help solve it,” he says.

For his contributions, Professor Parel received the ‘Ophthalmic Technologies Foundation Award’ this year at the recently held annual SPIE conference.
BPEI presented a major breakthrough in imaging, a revolutionary four-dimensional instrument conceived to quantify the mechanism of accommodation in real time, says Professor Parel.

“It dynamically shows and records cross-sections of the whole eye, hence monitoring the intraocular structural changes in the lens and ciliary muscle that occur when the subject accommodates and disaccommodates. It was designed to objectively assess the changes that occur in young and presbyopic subjects and the efficacy of implants designed to restore accommodation.”

Which brings us back to the goal of restoring accommodation for presbyopes. Professor Parel says the surgical technique, ancillary surgical instrumentation and devices have been developed and tested. “The remaining task is the formulation of an injectable polymer to refill the patient's natural capsular bag that's as pliable as the lens content of a baby while having the ideal index of refraction and specific gravity,” he says.

BPEI has been a participant in the CRC programme since it teamed up with other collaborators through the CRCERT (then Vision CRC) in the 1990s, including Brien Holden Vision Institute.

“Brien Holden Vision Pty Ltd is very close to having created such an ideal polymer and BPEI has been testing several of prototype gels in vivo.”

In addition to this, Professor Parel has a host of other exciting projects underway with the aim of providing better patient care. One involves the use of photodynamic therapy to treat fungal and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections, another focused on quantifying ‘dry eye’, a third assessing photosensitivity in achromatopsia, and a fourth dealing with retinal implants for retinitis pigmentosa patients.

Copyright © 2016 VisionCRC. All Rights Reserved.