Steve Fliesler, PhD, at his desk.

Steven J. Fliesler, PhD, has been recognized as a 2024 ARVO Foundation for Eye Research honoree.

ARVO Foundation Bestows Top Honor Upon Fliesler

By Dirk Hoffman

Published June 14, 2024

“His contributions have not only facilitated groundbreaking research, but have also supported the next generation of vision scientists, ensuring that the field continues to thrive. ”
Wei Li, MD, PhD
Senior investigator at the National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health

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Honorees are selected by the ARVO Foundation for Eye Research Board of Governors and are recognized for their commitment to ARVO and the ARVO Foundation, either through generous financial support, exemplary leadership of a Foundation initiative or dedication to endeavors that represent the mission of the Foundation. 

Member of International Organization For 48 Years

Fliesler, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Meyer H. Riwchun Endowed Chair Professor of ophthalmology in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, was honored at the 2024 ARVO annual meeting May 5-8 in Seattle, Washington.

“It was actually quite surprising to me when I found out I was going to receive this honor,” he said. “To me, it’s very gratifying to know that my contributions over the years to the vision research community have been appreciated, and hopefully that they have been impactful.”

Fliesler has been a member of the Rockville, Maryland-based ARVO for 48 years. It is the largest international professional society in the world dedicated to eye and vision research, with about 12,000 members from over 60 countries.

“For me service is not a burden; it’s an obligation and an honor to be chosen to serve,” he said.

An internationally renowned vision scientist, Fliesler is considered the world’s leading expert on cholesterol metabolism in the retina.

His research was instrumental in describing for the first time the involvement of the lipid intermediate pathway in glycoprotein synthesis in the human retina and the importance of protein glycosylation for normal retinal photoreceptor cell differentiation.

Fliesler’s research also demonstrated cholesterol’s role in the development and function of the retina, leading to his studies of retinal degeneration in Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome (SLOS), a birth defect resulting in profound dysmorphic and cognitive abnormalities.

Served In Multiple Influential Leadership Roles

Fliesler was elected to serve on the ARVO Board of Trustees, representing the Retinal Cell Biology (RC) Section, from 2014-2019, then president-elect (2017-2018) and served as president in 2018-2019 and immediate past president in 2019-2020.

He is only one of three individuals to serve as president of both ARVO and the International Society for Eye Research (ISER); the latter is the world’s second largest professional organization dedicated to eye and vision research.

Notably, Fliesler is the only person to ever serve twice on ARVO’s Annual Program Planning Committee, from 1990 to 1992, and from 2013 to 2015.

He was honored as a 2014 ARVO gold-tier fellow. The association’s gold-tier honorees represent the top 1 percent of its membership. Prior to that, he was named a silver-tier fellow as part of the association’s inaugural 2009 class. ARVO fellows are recognized for their stature in and contributions to the field of eye and vision research as well as for service specifically to ARVO.

In 2019, Fliesler was inducted into the Dowling Society, a philanthropic arm of the ARVO Foundation, and has made monetary contributions on a regular basis to the Foundation ever since.

Among his many influential leadership roles at ARVO over the years, he served multiple times as a session moderator (for both poster and platform sessions) at the ARVO annual meetings, and served on ARVO’s publications committee from 2010 to 2015, and as its chair-elect in 2012-2013 and chair from 2013 to 2015.

A video of testimonials from Fliesler’s peers was presented at the ARVO annual meeting.

“His holistic approach underscores his innovative spirit and his relentless pursuit of answers to some of the most challenging questions,” said Wei Li, MD, PhD, senior investigator at the National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health. “His contributions have not only facilitated groundbreaking research, but have also supported the next generation of vision scientists, ensuring that the field continues to thrive.”

“We’re all incredibly grateful for everything you do to support the philanthropic mission of the ARVO Foundation to raise money for vision researchers,” said Rafal Farjo, PhD, chief executive officer of EyeCRO and recently named chair of the Foundation. “Moreover, your unwavering commitment to our ARVO community through service and leadership has played a pivotal role in fostering collaboration, innovation and the continued advancement of ophthalmic research.”

“In addition to being a wonderful mentor to me and many others, your work in the field of lipid biology within the retina has been nothing short of groundbreaking,” Farjo added.

Research Funded Continuously For 40 Years

Throughout his distinguished career, Fliesler has received many other accolades from the eye and vision research community, including:

  • plenary (keynote) lecture: 24th International Congress of Ophthalmology and Optometry China (Shanghai, China)
  • named the 2022 recipient of the Retina Research Foundation’s (RRF) Paul Kayser International Award in Retina Research presented by ISER
  • twice honored with Chancellor’s Award Lecture in Neuroscience and Ophthalmology from the Neuroscience Center of Excellence, School of Medicine, Louisiana State University Health New Orleans (2023, 2017)
  • president of ISER from 2012 to 2014

At the University at Buffalo, Fliesler was named a SUNY Distinguished Professor in 2018 and was named a University at Buffalo Distinguished Professor in 2014.

In 2008, he was named the inaugural Meyer H. Riwchun Endowed Chair Professor of ophthalmology.

Since 2008, Fliesler has served as vice-chair/director of research in the Department of Ophthalmology in the Jacobs School. He also holds concurrent appointments as a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and in the Neuroscience Program at the Jacobs School, as well as being a Research Career Scientist at the Buffalo VA Medical Center (VA Western NY Healthcare System)

He was awarded the University at Buffalo Graduate School’s 2021-2022 Distinguished Postdoc Mentor Award.

Fliesler has published more than 150 peer-reviewed journal articles, and 15 book chapters and books. His research program has been funded continuously for 40 years by federal and private extramural grants. 

He obtained his doctoral degree in biochemistry from Rice University, did a postdoctoral fellowship at the Cullen Eye Institute/Baylor College of Medicine, and was previously on the faculties of Baylor College of Medicine, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute/University of Miami School of Medicine, and Saint Louis University School of Medicine prior to joining the UB faculty in 2008.