Venkat N. Reddy

Venkat N. Reddy, Ph.D., a world-renowned vision researcher and recognized expert on the metabolism of the lens and the formation of cataract, died peacefully on June 30, 2018 in Rochester Hills, Michigan at the age of 95.

Dr. Reddy grew up in the small village of Chintakuntla in India, which is now part of the city of Hyderabad, as the youngest of four sons. In 1945, he received the B.Sc. degree in Chemistry from the University of Madras, and encouraged and supported by his brother, Dr. Narisimha Reddy, he emigrated to the U.S. to obtain the Masters and PhD degrees in Biochemistry from Fordham University. This was followed by a four year post-doctoral fellowship at Columbia University and a brief stay as a research fellow at the Banting and Best Institute in Toronto, Canada. In 1956, he joined the Kresge Eye Institute at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan as a faculty member, teaming with Dr. V. Everett Kinsey for what would be a marvelous 20 year relationship. In 1968, the two investigators left the Kresge Eye Institute to establish the Eye Research Institute (ERI) at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. Dr. Reddy served as ERI Director from 1975 to 1997, and under his leadership, the Institute gained national prominence as a leading ophthalmic research center. Retiring from Oakland University in 1998, Dr. Reddy joined the faculty of the University of Michigan Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences as a Senior Research Professor. He ended his remarkable 50-year vision research career in 2006, returning to Oakland University as a Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Sciences, Emeritus to interact almost daily with ERI faculty, staff and student researchers for another decade.

Early in his career, Dr. Reddy collaborated closely with Dr. Kinsey to conduct pioneering studies on the chemistry of aqueous humor. Many of the transport mechanisms that contribute to aqueous humor formation were elucidated by this work. A major part of Dr. Reddy’s research effort was the careful, detailed analysis of steady state levels of free amino acids, electrolytes and related compounds in the aqueous humor, coupled with the determination of the mechanisms of transport of these molecules into the various compartments of the eye. This work is considered a major contribution to our understanding of lens physiology, and resulted in Dr. Reddy receiving the prestigious Friedenwald Award in Ophthalmology in 1979. In addition to his investigation of aqueous humor dynamics, Dr. Reddy is also well known for his extensive studies on the degradation and synthesis of reduced glutathione, the major antioxidant compound present in the lens. His numerous research accomplishments spanned both the lens and glaucoma fields.

Dr. Reddy’s research was continuously supported by the National Eye Institute (NEI), NIH for more than four decades, and included a coveted ten year MERIT Award received in 1989. He published over 180 peer-reviewed articles during his career and received many research accolades including the Alcon Research Recognition Award (1984), Michigan Scientist of the Year Award (1991), and Oakland University Research Excellence Award (1993). On the occasion of his 90th birthday, the LV Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad sent him a beautiful glass sculpture created by the Indian artist Sisir Sahana for “his outstanding efforts in promoting vision research in India”. Dr. Reddy had close connections with leading vision researchers from all over the world. Each year for 25 years, he invited a few dozen of them to attend a “Biochemistry of the Eye Conference” held in Meadowbrook Hall (now a National Historic Landmark) at Oakland University to present results of their most recent studies involving all tissues of the eye. Dr. Reddy and his wife Alvira had a special fondness for Japan. In 1983, he was invited by the Japanese Ophthalmological Society to present its Guest of Honor Lecture, an honor not usually accorded to basic scientists. Beginning in 1980, Dr. Reddy invited over 20 visiting scientists from Japan to spend two years each working with him in the ERI. One result of these highly productive collaborations was the creation of an immortalized human lens epithelial cell line (SRA 01/04) that is currently being used by researchers all over the world to investigate lens epithelial cell metabolism.

Dr. Reddy was also a well-recognized leader and advocate for vision research outside of the laboratory. He served on the editorial boards of Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science and Experimental Eye Research for many years, and was a frequent member of NIH Study Sections. In the 1970’s and 80’s, he served on the NEI Board of Scientific Counselors (1977-81) and the National Advisory Eye Council (1982-87). In 1986, he was elected as President of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO), and served as President of the National Foundation of Eye Research from 1984 until his passing.

In 1998, over 50 of Dr. Reddy’s colleagues attended the Venkat Reddy International Symposium at the Airlie Conference Center in Virginia to thank him for his many years of leadership and dedication to ophthalmic research, and to honor him for his life-time achievements (see Reddy VN, A forty-two year voyage through vision research, J. Ocular Pharmacol., 2000). He will be remembered as an excellent scientist and academic leader, a true gentleman scholar and a key figure in the founding of ophthalmic research as a respected discipline. He was preceded in death by his wife of 57 years, Alvira. He is survived by his loving son Vinay (Laura Smidchens), daughter Marlita Reddy-Hjelmfelt (Eric Hjelmfelt), and 17 nieces and nephews. Donations in his memory can be made to Oakland University for the Alvira M. and Venkat N. Reddy Endowed Research Professorship.