A ‘Forever Contribution’

November 11, 2021

Professorship furthers collaboration between Wilmer Eye Institute and Whiting School of Engineering

The thin layers and fine structures of the retina have given it the distinction of being one of the most difficult parts of the human body for surgical intervention.

That challenge has not deterred the Wilmer Eye Institute’s Peter Gehlbach, MD, PhD. In fact, it has motivated him to the point that he has dedicated the last 12 years of his professional life to collaborating with engineers at the Whiting School of Engineering to invent and develop robotic approaches to retinal surgery. The research team now refers to its exceedingly productive collaboration as “The Whiting-Wilmer Bridge.”

man with white hair, mustache, and glasses and wearing a navy jacket and blue shirt looks over shoulder of young man with dark brown hair and wearing dark glasses and black shirt in a lab
The J. Willard Marriott, Jr. Professorship of Ophthalmology supports the work of Peter Gehlbach, MD, PhD (above left), who hopes his collaboration with young Whiting School of Engineering researchers will contribute to their knowledge and skills in improving retinal surgery

“There are so many brilliant minds and dedicated scientists at Whiting,” Gehlbach says. “Their technical skill, matched with our clinical understanding of what’s actually needed in the operating theater, has been a truly productive pairing. This enduring relationship has led to some exciting and high-impact work together.”

The collaboration with the Whiting School received an additional boost of support when Gehlbach became the inaugural recipient of the recently endowed J. Willard Marriott, Jr. Professorship of Ophthalmology, established by the hotelier J.W. “Bill” Marriott Jr. The endowment was years in the making, built through a number of gifts by Marriott, his family, the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation, and other contributors. Gehlbach plans to deploy the funds into his academic mission.

As a permanent endowment, the professorship will support future generations of Wilmer researchers as they pursue their best ideas.

Gehlbach notes: “It is in this ‘forever contribution’ that I am personally most pleased, and all of us at Wilmer are beholden to Bill Marriott and his family for this honor.”

The endowment will cover many aspects of the J. Willard Marriott, Jr. Professor’s work, including partial support of salary, buying that critical piece of equipment, or affording that much needed resource to advance research. It also allows for the strengthening of collaborative bridges with the Whiting School and other research programs. In that regard, Gehlbach says, the word “important” does not begin to describe the critical role that an endowed professorship plays for a research-focused institution like Wilmer.

“Professorships are the backbone, the ballast, that get us through the lean times — the COVID-19 times — providing flexibility and allowing our creativity, ingenuity, inventiveness, and inspiration to continue uninterrupted,” he says.

These are the precise qualities that Bill Marriott hoped to support through his endowment.

“Dr. Gehlbach is a brilliant surgeon and scientist. What makes him especially unique is his secondary appointment at the Whiting School of Engineering,” Marriott says. “My family and I are indebted to Dr. Gehlbach and proud that our professorship will support his work. Collaboration is at the heart of discovery and innovation, and it has been a privilege to play a part in ensuring that robotics and retinal microsurgeries continue to develop hand in glove.”

Learn more about the research and accomplishments of Peter Gehlbach in the Wilmer Annual Report 2020.

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