By Ava Kikut
Scheie Vision Summer 2017
In 1977, Dr. Alexander (Sandy) Brucker, fresh from his retina fellowship at Johns Hopkins Hospital, decided to join the Scheie Eye Institute for a few years before returning to Baltimore. “It was going to be a short stopover for a three year period,” Dr. Brucker said. “That three year period has turned into 40 years.” Over the past four decades at Scheie, Dr. Brucker has become a world renowned clinician, educator, and researcher. He is annually recognized as one of the nation’s top doctors by Best Doctors in America, America’s Top Doctors, Philadelphia Magazine, and Suburban Life Magazine. He has been a memorable teacher and mentor to many Scheie alumni. And his research has been invaluable to the field of retinal and vitreous diseases.
Dr. Brucker became interested in the retina during his residency at The Friedenwald Institute of Maryland General Hospital in Baltimore. At the time, fluorescein angiography (a method for taking photos of the back of the eye) was gaining popularity. Dr. Brucker began taking photos with the fundus camera and presenting them to other residents. “I was really excited by what was going on in the back of the eye…and it was a very broad and expanding field that was at the cutting edge of everything. That started me on the trail of going into the retina subspecialty,” explained Dr. Brucker.
When Dr. Brucker was in training, several novel studies on diabetes and laser surgery were coming out. Before the 1970s, there was no treatment for diabetic retinopathy. “Then laser came along and it changed everything. Patients who were going blind prior to laser surgery were no longer going blind. It was really an absolute phenomenon that laser surgery was able to prevent blindness,” said Dr. Brucker. “Shining a light in the eye could treat diseases and prevent patients from losing their vision.” In the 1980s, laser surgery became a leading treatment for diabetic retinopathy, age related macular degeneration (AMD), macular edema, and other proliferative diseases such as sickle cell retinopathy. More recently, pharmaceutical companies have developed an alternative to laser surgery, which uses antibodies to block VEGF, a protein that promotes growth of new blood vessels that can be harmful to the eye and vision.
In the 1980s, Dr. Brucker was actively involved in the development of new instruments for the surgical treatment of retinal and vitreous diseases. He helped design and develop one of the most frequently used needles for retinal detachment surgery, a CyroProbe for the treatment of retinal tears and detachments, the use of a pump to inflate the eye with air during vitreous surgery, and a venting technique that helped prevent the collapsing of the eye during vitreous surgery. He served for several years on the Executive Committee of the Diabetic Retinopathy Clinical Research Network, a consortium sponsored by the National Eye Institute. Furthermore, he was on the Federal Drug Administration panel that approved new agents for glaucoma and other innovative changes, including the use of heavy liquids for the repair of retinal detachments. From development to implementation, Dr. Brucker has been involved in most of the surgical techniques used in the field today.
Dr. Brucker is actively involved in clinical trials. “Much of my career has been committed to doing randomized clinical trials, which are critical for the development of new technology and treatment modalities both for the logic range areas as well as in the surgical areas,” he explained. Dr. Brucker has recently participated in trials testing injectable compounds for age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, macular puckers, vitreomacular traction, macular holes, and other disorders. He has served as Principal Investigator of Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT), the Age-Related Eye Disease Study II, the MacTel Study, the Diabetic Retinopathy Clinical Research network (DRCRnet) and other randomized controlled trials of retinal and vitreous diseases.
Through conducting randomized clinical trials, Dr. Brucker has realized the importance of creating a forum for physicians in the retina and vitreous field to discuss clinical and research developments. In 1977, he was a founding member of the Macula Society, of which he later became president. The Macula Society organizes meetings to discuss retinal and vitreous diseases and their treatments. It is presently considered by most retinal specialists, as the preeminent retinal specialty society in the world today. In 1981, Dr. Brucker founded The Journal of Retinal and Vitreous Diseases, which has become the world’s leading journal for retinal and vitreous diseases. “We are an international journal with subscribers and authors as well as an editorial board from all over the world,” said Dr. Brucker. Dr. Brucker continues to serve as Retina’s Editor-in-Chief.
In addition to facilitating a dialogue between physicians on treatment modalities and research, Dr. Brucker has also been involved with communicating advancements to patients. Dr. Brucker, along with Scheie’s own Lea Bramnick and the late Herb Lotman, the founder of the Macular Vision Research Foundation, started a national patient support group which was known nationally as “Support Sight”. They served 23 centers throughout the United States and had 35,000 registered participants. These chapters held meetings every few months to offer support to patients and their care givers and to communicate advances in research and treatments of conditions that cause visual impairment.
During his time at Scheie, Dr. Brucker has been unwavering in his devotion to his patients. He is not only an outstanding physician; he is committed to providing support to the broader patient community and to continuing to develop novel therapies and surgical techniques.
In addition to his clinical work, Dr. Brucker has served as a mentor for generations of Scheie medical students, residents, fellows, and colleagues. He is well-recognized for his excellence in teaching and mentoring and remains in contact with many of his past residents, fellows and students. Dr. Brucker was recently honored at Scheie’s 143rd Annual Alumni Meeting as the 12th Annual David M. Kozart Memorial Lecturer.
The Scheie Eye Institute, its residents, fellows, students, patients, and colleagues, congratulate Dr. Brucker for his achievements and is grateful that his stopover has turned into a forty year career.