Prem Subramanian, MD, PhD, professor and vice chair for academic affairs in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, has been named the inaugural Clifford R. and Janice N. Merrill Endowed Chair in Ophthalmology.
The endowed chair is supported by a gift exceeding $2 million from the estate of the Merrills. The late Janice Merrill appreciated the importance of vision care and created the endowment to support the department after learning about the research, care, and education being done at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.
“I am incredibly grateful to the Merrill family for providing this generous gift to our department and am honored to be chosen to fulfill their wishes to support the research and educational missions that Janice Merrill valued so much,” Subramanian says.
As chief of the neuro-ophthalmology division, Subramanian is an ambassador for the subspeciality, which focuses on conditions with an eye-brain connection, including thyroid eye disease, optic nerve problems, double vision, and vision impairment stemming from brain tumors. He has co-authored neuro-ophthalmology textbooks and hundreds of journal articles. In addition to teaching at CU School of Medicine, he travels the globe to provide continuing medical education to eye care providers in places where there are few, if any, neuro-ophthalmologists.
Subramanian has appointments at UCHealth Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Eye Center, Denver Health, Rocky Mountain Regional Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VA), and the Marcus Institute for Brain Health. He is also an adjunct professor for the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.
“Dr. Subramanian is an internationally recognized leader in neuro-ophthalmology,” says Naresh Mandava, MD, chair of the CU Department of Ophthalmology and Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Endowed Chair in Retinal Diseases. “He is currently president of the North American Neuro-Ophthalmology Society and serves on the board of trustees of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. He is truly a triple threat in his field and works tirelessly to scale the impacts in research, education, and clinical care in the neuro-ophthalmology division. Our patients in the Rocky Mountain region have benefited greatly from his presence at CU.”
Subramanian’s research focuses on optic nerve disorders that cause vision loss, and he is currently studying a glaucoma drug delivered nasally to treat idiopathic intracranial hypertension, a condition afflicting mostly young women that can lead to blindness.
“The endowment creates an opportunity to expand the research we are doing into causes of visual dysfunction after brain injury and develop new drugs to treat some common conditions in neuro-ophthalmology,” he explains. “Philanthropy is particularly important for a specialty like neuro-ophthalmology. Traditionally, it’s been seen as a more cerebral, less procedural-oriented specialty. When young physicians see neuro-ophthalmologists receiving philanthropic support to support research and drug development, it shows them the possibilities.”
Subramanian was drawn to ophthalmology in part because of a family history of eye problems, including a grandfather who lost his vision from glaucoma.
"I became fascinated by neuro-ophthalmology because of the challenges and rewards of solving complex problems requiring multidisciplinary care,” he says. “We work a lot with our colleagues in neighboring fields like neurology and neurosurgery. We treat patients with problems that are generally more complex and require a little more time and attention.”
He earned his undergraduate degree in chemistry at Princeton University on a military scholarship. He served a residency in ophthalmology at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center followed by a neuro-ophthalmology fellowship at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, all while serving on active duty in the U.S. Army.