August 2014
Volume 55, Issue 8
Lecture  |   August 2014
Introducing José Cunha-Vaz, the 2014 Recipient of the Weisenfeld Award
Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science August 2014, Vol.55, 5410-5411. doi:10.1167/iovs.14-14849
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      Morton F. Goldberg; Introducing José Cunha-Vaz, the 2014 Recipient of the Weisenfeld Award. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2014;55(8):5410-5411. doi: 10.1167/iovs.14-14849.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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For half a century, José Cunha-Vaz, MD, PhD, has led groundbreaking research into the blood–retinal barrier of both normal and diseased eyes, particularly in diabetic retinopathy. 
In the early 1960s, while obtaining his PhD at the University of London as a very young man, and he was a very young man, he published the initial and the definitive research showing that this critically important barrier—the blood–retinal barrier—was located in the endothelial cells of the retinal vasculature and in the retinal pigment epithelium, rather than in a glial membrane lining the basement membrane of capillaries as had previously been thought. One of his early studies was among the 100 most frequently cited articles in ophthalmology. In physiologic studies, he showed for the first time that transport of fluorescein dye and organic ions was an active process, and that these organic ions were pumped out of the retina into the systemic bloodstream against substantial concentration gradients, thereby protecting the retina from chemical damage. His photomontage, published in 1966, showed, as well as it has ever been shown, that foreign chemicals, such as circulating trypan blue in this case, are routinely excluded from the brain and retina but not from the choroid and not from the heart and lungs, nor from any other nonprotected organs (because those organs do not have a barrier property). In ultrastructural studies at that time, he demonstrated that the morphologic location of this barrier in the retina was in the tight junctions between endothelial cells. If he had made no other discoveries, these would have been sufficient for a meaningful and successful career, but in fact he was responsible for a series of more than nine additional landmark discoveries over the next several decades, including the following: 
    First, the introduction of vitreous fluorophotometry in 1975 and the invention of a commercial fluorophotometer, called the FluorotronMaster;
    The next discovery, in 1980, was the role of the blood–retinal barrier in nondiabetic vascular diseases of the retina;
    Next, in 1984, the effect of the blood–retinal barrier in cystoid macular edema;
    Next, in 1985, the demonstration of increased vascular permeability in early stages of diabetic retinopathy;
    Next, in 1990, the demonstration of reabsorptive flux for retinal vascular lesions, using a new microperfusion technique;
    Next, in 1999, the multimodal mapping of fluorescein leakage from the retina, using confocal scanning laser fluorophotometry of the human vitreous;
    Next, in 2004, the characterization of different phenotypes of nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy;
    Next, in 2007, identification of predictive factors for development of diabetic macular edema;
    And most recently, in 2009, documentation of microaneurysm turnover as a biomarker for progression of early diabetic retinopathy to clinically significant macular edema.
José Cunha-Vaz has been a prolific contributor to the scientific and clinical literature, with close to 500 publications. As an active member of ARVO, he has been responsible for many dozens of presentations, year after year, as exemplified by numerous citations in the indexes of all recent ARVO programs. And he has been continually funded for research during the past four decades and into the present. 
José Cunha-Vaz has held numerous highly responsible civic and professional appointments. For example, he was director of the Department of Ophthalmology for close to 40 years at the University of Coimbra in Portugal, one of the most venerable and also one of the most advanced ophthalmology centers in Europe. He was dean of the Medical Faculty in Coimbra for 5 years, and once also served as mayor of his city. He founded and now serves as president of the Association for Innovation and Biomedical Research on Light and Image, the AIBILI, headquartered in Coimbra. It is a large and outstanding research institute. He also founded the European Network of Clinical Trial Centers in Ophthalmology, and served as editor-in-chief of three different eye journals. He was a founding member and is now the secretary general of the European Academy of Ophthalmology. As evidence of the widespread respect that he enjoys in Europe, he was elected to the presidency of the European Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons and also the European Society of Retinal Surgeons, a remarkable achievement in two different specialty areas that is definitely not achievable by anyone in the United States. 
In the 1980s, he had two separate sabbaticals at the University of Illinois, where he directed the Retina Service and was an outstanding scientist, clinician, teacher, and colleague. When I initially invited him to join our faculty there, he understandably said he needed to think about it. Well, I assumed I might hear from him in a month or two. But, decisive as ever, and after “thinking about it” for only a few hours, he said yes . . . to our great delight. 
Ze, as Cunha-Vaz is familiarly known, has given dozens of international distinguished lectures, the most poignant of which was the inaugural José Cunha-Vaz Lectureship, named for him in 2008 by the Portuguese Society of Ophthalmology. He was also the recipient of the Alcon Research Institute Award, the Helmholtz Gold Medal, and the Bietti Medal. Moreover, the Portuguese government awarded him its highest civilian honor, the King Henry the Navigator Medal. 
Ze began life in Portugal. His father was a distinguished ophthalmologist himself and took very good care of his precocious son. Ze's most highly intelligent decision was to marry his beautiful and charming wife, Terie. They have very impressive and talented children, Eduardo, Cecilia, and Ricardo, who in turn married wonderful spouses and now have their own beautiful children. Despite all of his demanding activities, Ze really knows how to enjoy himself in numerous locations throughout the world. 
In closing, let me emphasize some of Ze's most endearing personal traits. He is a loyal, nurturing, and trustworthy friend to innumerable colleagues around the world. I personally consider Ze to be one of my closest lifelong friends and confidants. Life would not be as intellectually exciting nor as socially rewarding if it were not for José Cunha-Vaz. 
The Weisenfeld Lectureship is awarded for “Distinguished scholarly contributions to the clinical practice of ophthalmology.” In the case of José Cunha-Vaz's many important contributions to ophthalmology, as the early Romans would have said, res ipsa loquitur . . . his career speaks for itself. 
Please join me in welcoming José Cunha-Vaz. 

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