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January 1998

Roy H. Steinberg, MD, PhD, 1935-1997

Arch Ophthalmol. 1998;116(1):120. doi:10.1001/archopht.116.1.120

Roy H. Steinberg, MD, PhD, professor of physiology and ophthalmology at the University of California, San Francisco, died at his home on July 26, 1997, after a 4-year battle with multiple myeloma. He was 61 years old. Steinberg made fundamental contributions to understanding the function, structure, and degeneration of the retina and retinal pigment epithelium (RPE).

Roy H. Steinberg, MD, PhD

Roy H. Steinberg, MD, PhD

Roy Steinberg was born on December 9, 1935, in New York City. He had a lifelong interest in human psychology and studied it at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where he received his undergraduate and master's degrees. Following medical school at New York Medical College, New York City, and internship at Boston University, Boston, Mass, he obtained a doctorate degree in brain research with Herbert Jasper, MD, at the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. During the Vietnam era, he performed research for the US Army and Navy at the Naval Aerospace Medical Institute, Pensacola, Fla, under the direction of Ashton Graybiel, MD. He went to the University of California, San Francisco, in 1969 to work with Kenneth Brown, PhD, and remained there throughout his professional career.

Steinberg was most widely known for his pioneering studies on RPE, with a strong interest in the adjacent neural retina. With his colleague Sheldon Miller, PhD, he studied the ionic mechanisms of the RPE that control the makeup of the environment surrounding the rods and cones, thereby modulating their function and metabolism. He also advanced our understanding of the contributions of the RPE to the electroretinogram, which is widely used as a noninvasive measure of retinal function. He demonstrated that the cone cells of the human retina help to renew themselves by disc shedding in preparation for phagocytosis by the RPE, as do rod cells. However, he was known to say that his most enjoyable work was the formulation of an original model, developed with University of California, Santa Barbara, scientists Steven Fisher, PhD, and Don Anderson, PhD, of how new discs are continuously added to outer segments of rods and cones.

In the late 1980s, along with University of California, San Francisco, medical student Ella Faktorovich, MD, and his colleague Matthew LaVail, PhD, he demonstrated that intraocularly injecting growth factors could slow or prevent inherited or environmentally induced degenerations of rods and cones in rats. He became devoted to the potential therapeutic use of these agents; at the time of his death, he was involved in further animal experiments that he hoped would soon lead to the treatment of such blinding diseases as retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration.

Roy Steinberg had a keen mind, a great breadth of basic and clinical knowledge, an intensely sharp focus, and a great dedication to his research. Consequently, he accomplished more during his career than most scientists. In recognition of his remarkable contributions, he received the Jonas S. Friedenwald Award from the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, Bethesda, Md, in 1987. The same year, he received the MERIT Award from the National Eye Institute, Bethesda. For his most recent research, he was corecipient of the first John A. Moran Prize in Visual Science in 1997. While maintaining an active and vigorous research program, he served unselfishly as an advisor to the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, and particularly to the National Eye Institute in many capacities, resulting ultimately in his appointment to the National Advisory Eye Council in 1994.

He is survived by his wife, Jane M. Gitschier, PhD, a human geneticist at the University of California, San Francisco, and their adopted daughter, Annie Xiao-Peng Steinberg. He is also survived by his former wife, Lois Silverstein, PhD, their son Julian Steinberg, and his sister Norma Fox.

Vision research and ophthalmology have lost an intense, committed, creative, and most productive scientist and friend in Roy Steinberg. We are greatly saddened by his loss but are buoyed by his lasting contributions, the most significant of which are the influences he has had on the many students, fellows, scientists, and colleagues who worked with him.