Stanley Chang, MD, is the K.K. Tse and Ku Teh Ying Professor of Ophthalmology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.
Dr. Chang was born in Shanghai; his family immigrated to the United States when he was two years old and settled in New York, where he attended the Bronx High School of Science. He went on to earn an electrical engineering degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a master’s degree in biomedical electronic engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, and a medical degree from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
He might have followed in the footsteps of his father, an engineer, were it not for his interest in patient care. “I wanted to use my aptitude for engineering but get more involved with people,” Dr. Chang said in an interview for the Columbia Medicine News & Notes. “Medicine seemed the perfect fit.”
Dr. Chang developed and pioneered several innovative surgical approaches to treat complicated forms of retinal detachment; his techniques have enhanced the lives of patients worldwide. He was the first to use perfluoropropane gas in managing retinal detachments caused by scar tissue proliferation (proliferative vitreoretinopathy, or PVR) on the retina.
He revolutionized the field with the development of perfluorocarbon liquids, a “heavy liquid” used in flattening retinal detachment, and the related surgical techniques for vitreoretinal surgery. In collaboration with Avi Grinblat, Dr. Chang developed a panoramic viewing system and led in its worldwide adaptation by retina surgeons to this technique.
Dr. Chang completed his residency at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, and his fellowship at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. From 1995 to 2012, he was chair of ophthalmology at the Edward Harkness Eye Institute, where he remains an active faculty member.
He is the recipient of numerous honors including the Hermann Wacker Prize from the Club Jules Gonin, the W. H. Helmerich III Award from the American Society of Retina Specialists, the Lifetime Achievement Honor Award and the Charles Schepens Lecture from the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the Jackson Memorial Lecture, and the Alcon Research Institute Award.
Please share an impactful moment that shaped your early, middle, and/or late career. Was there a time in your career when you witnessed history in the making?
The most impactful time was early in my career when I first used perfluoro-octane (PFO) on a patient with a 270-degree giant retinal tear. We had planned to use retinal tacks, but encountered a lot of bleeding from the first tack.
We injected the PFO and immediately the retina was attached. What a relief! From then, I knew that PFO would become the preferred treatment for giant retinal tears.
What career accomplishment provides you with the greatest sense of satisfaction?
I was able to participate during the development of vitreoretinal surgery, and to contribute several novel techniques—the use of C3F8 gases for complicated retinal detachments, perfluorocarbon liquids as an adjunct during vitrectomy, and the development (with Avi Grinblat) of a panoramic viewing system for vitrectomy using contact lenses. I have been pleased to see these developments used by my colleagues around the world.
What do you feel is the most significant development or change in the practice of retina?
I would say that the practice of retina has been most impacted by the refinement of optical coherence imaging, and the development of VEGF antagonists. The next most impactful changes would be gene therapy and cell-based therapies for retinal diseases that could not be treated previously.
Can you share any advice for future generations of retina specialists?
Keep an open mind and don’t forget to ask how you can improve what you are doing. Always focus on providing your best effort for your patient, who has immense trust in you.
How do you imagine the practice of retina will change by 2040?
I am hoping that we will be able to restore good functional visual acuity in patients who have lost vision from retinal disorders.
Our sincere thanks to Dr. Chang for sharing his retina reflections.
(Retina Reflection published 2021)