Apte new Cibis Professor of Ophthalmology

Rajendra S. Apte, MD, PhD, is the new Paul A. Cibis Distinguished Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

The Cibis Distinguished Professorship was established in the year 2000 by an anonymous donor. It honors the late Paul A. Cibis, MD, an important figure in the history of Washington University’s Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, according to Michael A. Kass, MD, the Bernard Becker Professor and head of ophthalmology and visual sciences, who announced the appointment.

“Dr. Cibis was a pioneer in the area of vitreoretinal surgery, and he was a very gifted physician and scientist,” Kass says. “His contributions improved our understanding of retinal diseases and helped develop therapeutic approaches that have assisted millions of patients. It’s appropriate that Raj Apte, a distinguished vitreoretinal surgeon himself, now will occupy the chair that honors Dr. Cibis.”

Apte, the second faculty member to hold the Cibis chair, focuses his research on inflammation and aberrant blood vessel growth that together wreak havoc in eye diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older Americans. His work has demonstrated that the immune system regulates the development and proliferation of the blood vessels that cause damage.

He has found that immune factors also play key roles in diabetic retinopathy and retinopathy of prematurity. In all three conditions, immune cells called macrophages regulate the development of damaging blood vessels.

“I’m honored to be chosen as the Cibis professor,” Apte says. “He made enormous contributions to the field, and I hope that support from this endowed professorship will allow my laboratory to contribute to improving the understanding of retinal diseases so that we can develop more effective treatments. We already know some of the key causes. Now we need to identify more effective ways to intervene.”

Born in Bombay, India, Apte earned bachelor’s and medical degrees from the University of Bombay. In 1997, he completed a PhD in immunology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, where he later was a resident in ophthalmology. From 2001 to 2003, medical and vitreoretinal surgical fellowships followed at the Wilmer Ophthalmological Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

He joined the Washington University faculty in 2003, with appointments in ophthalmology and visual sciences and in developmental biology, where he focuses on regenerative and cell biology. Apte is involved in clinical studies of medical and surgical treatments for diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration. He is also director of education for the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences.

Apte is a member of numerous professional societies and organizations, including the American Academy of Ophthalmology, Macula Society, Retina Society, American Society of Retina Specialists, Club Jules Gonin and Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology. His numerous awards include the American Retina Foundation Research Award, American Academy of Ophthalmology Senior Achievement Award, the Julie Martin AFAR Award and, most recently, the 2013 Macula Society Young Investigator Award.

An author on more than 70 peer-reviewed scientific articles, Apte serves as an editor for the online journal PLoS One and a reviewer for several other journals, including Ophthalmology, Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Cibis was born in 1911 in Rybnik, Germany (now a part of Poland). He attended the University of Berlin, where he earned undergraduate medical degrees.

After completing medical school in 1936, Cibis was an ophthalmology resident at the Heidelberg Eye Clinic, where he later became a faculty member. Then in 1949, Cibis was one of several German scientists recruited to become part of the U.S. Space Medicine Program, and for the next several years, he studied the effects of radiation on the retina at the School of Aerospace Medicine at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas.

He joined the ophthalmology department at Washington University School of Medicine in 1955, where he continued his research and established the retina service. A gifted surgeon, Cibis pioneered the use of silicone oil injections to repair retinal detachments. Later in his career, he entered private practice, but he continued to be involved at the School of Medicine, initiating a fellowship program for training retina specialists. He died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1965 at the age of 53.

Cibis met his wife, Lisa, when she was an ophthalmology resident. Their children, Gerhard Cibis and Andrea Tongue, both graduated from Washington University School of Medicine and both also became ophthalmologists.

Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked sixth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.