Eliot L. Berson, MD
Former William F. Chatlos Professor of Ophthalmology (1968-2017)
A seminal figure in the field of inherited retinal diseases, Eliot L. Berson, MD, was the William F. Chatlos Professor of Ophthalmology, and a member of the Department and the Mass. Eye and Ear medical staff since 1968. The Founding Director of the Berman-Gund Laboratory for the Study of Retinal Degenerations at Mass. Eye and Ear, Dr. Berson’s discoveries and leadership laid the foundations for understanding retinitis pigmentosa and developing therapies for these disorders. Throughout his career, he partnered with the Foundation Fighting Blindness for the generous financial support that enabled his work and led to many of these remarkable advances.
In the 1960s, Dr. Berson discovered that Electroretinography (ERG) could detect photoreceptor dysfunction up to a decade before vision starts to deteriorate in retinitis pigmentosa; since then, ERG has been used routinely to diagnose this condition and estimate visual prognoses. His further investigations showed that nutritional supplementation with Vitamin A, omega-3, and lutein can slow associated visual field loss.
In the early 1990s, Dr. Berson and his colleague Thaddeus Dryja, MD, discovered the first gene defects associated with retinitis pigmentosa, building on their initial discovery to identify approximately 20 such gene defects. Consequently, numerous biochemical pathways have become avenues for further research in the field, including his collaborations in developing animal models that provided proof-of-concept that gene replacement therapy is feasible for certain retinal degenerations.
Dr. Berson passed away on Sunday, March 19, 2017, at the age of 79. He made great contributions to the field of retinal degenerations. He was passionate and tireless in research efforts to cure these blinding diseases, and cared deeply for his patients and their families. We will continue to celebrate his accomplishments and devotion