Jeffrey Liebmann, M.D.: On Columbia and Collaboration

A nationally renowned glaucoma specialist, Jeffrey Liebmann, M.D. joined the Department of Ophthalmology in January as the Shirlee and Bernard Brown Professor of Ophthalmology. He is also the Department Vice-Chair and the Director of Glaucoma Services.

Jeffrey Liebmann, M.D.

For Dr. Liebmann, deciding to pursue a career in medicine felt instinctive even from a young age. He was curious about science, nature, and biology, and medicine seemed the obvious path to follow. However, treating patients was not enough; Dr. Liebmann wanted to be a bridge between patient care and the basic biomedical research pursued in academic medical environments.

This translational approach to medicine – taking discoveries and treatments “from bench to bedside,” or from the laboratory to the patient – is the cornerstone of his ap

proach. He is pleased to be working alongside faculty members at Columbia Ophthalmology, where this translational approach guides clinical and research initiatives.

“Having access to Columbia’s clinical and research faculty just down the hall means that we can work together to improve translational ophthalmic medicine, especially for potentially blinding diseases like glaucoma,” he remarks. “I have already started new projects with colleagues C. Gustavo De Moraes, M.D., M.P.H., Dana Blumberg, M.D., M.P.H., Lama Al-Aswad, M.D., Gülgün Tezel, M.D., and G.A. Cioffi, M.D.

Dr. Liebmann has spent his career developing clinical research partnerships, working with specialists from the University of Iowa, the Singapore National Eye Center, Washington University  in St. Louis, Northwestern University, New York University, and Harvard University. These academic collaborations have been instrumental in shaping his approach to medicine. His research initiatives utilize a multicenter, longitudinal – or long-term – approach. As Director of Glaucoma Services, he intends to create a multidisciplinary team from across the medical center to further explore innovative approaches to diagnosing and treating glaucoma.

His primary areas of research include the pathogenesis of glaucoma, glaucomatous progression and neurodegeneration, ocular imaging technologies, and neuroprotection. In particular, Dr. Liebmann is interested in using advanced modalities of ocular imaging technology to study the progression of glaucoma and its resulting damage. During his 25-year career, he has been an advocate and pioneer of these imaging technologies. Using optical coherence tomography (OCT) and high resolution ultrasonography, he has captured precise and three-dimensional images of traditionally hard-to-see ocular anatomy. He helped enable the “mapping” of the eye’s “microarchitectures,” including the thin layers of the retina, retinal nerve fiber layers, and instances of optic nerve damage that were previously difficult to visualize.

As a medical field, ophthalmology appeals to Dr. Liebmann because it offers a glimpse into the future. He states, “Ophthalmology remains at the forefront of the development of new technologies, such as laser surgery, high resolution imaging, and minimally invasive surgery. These innovative diagnostic techniques and treatments have not yet been introduced within other fields of medicine.”

He specializes in glaucoma because of the significant vision impairment the disease inflicts. It is the second leading cause of irreversible blindness in the United States, and worldwide, it affects over 70 million people. “Blindness is the most feared of all medical conditions,” he believes. “Once glaucoma results in optic nerve damage, any loss of vision is permanent. Therefore, early detection is imperative.”

Dr. Liebmann received his B.A. and M.D. from Boston University’s Combined Six-Year Medical Education Program and completed a residency in ophthalmology at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center, serving as Chief Resident. He later pursued glaucoma fellowship training at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary. Prior to arriving at Columbia, he held appointments as Attending Surgeon at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology at NYU School of Medicine, and Director of Glaucoma Services at NYU Langone Medical Center and the Manhattan Eye, Ear, and Throat Hospital.

He is the President of the World Glaucoma Association and past President of the American Glaucoma Society. He is also the recipient of several honors and awards, including the SUNY Downstate Medical Center MVP Award, the Life Achievement Honor Award from the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the Excellence in Clinical Teaching Award at NYU School of Medicine, and the Senior Achievement Award from the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

A prolific researcher and writer, he has authored over 450 scientific publications and delivered over 220 guest lectures and 550 conference presentations. He has also instructed over 75 courses and trained 120 fellows. Dr. Cioffi, Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology, comments, “We are fortunate to have recruited Dr. Liebmann and we look forward to working with him for many years to come. His arrival not only enhances our Glaucoma Division by complementing the expertise of our existing glaucoma faculty, but also strengthens our entire Department. I have often told friends and patients, ‘If I had glaucoma, Dr. Liebmann would be my doctor.’”

Looking into the future, Dr. Liebmann sees Columbia Ophthalmology making significant contributions to vision research. His number one priority, however, is patient care. “Without question,” he says, “the most fulfilling moments in my medical career occur on a daily basis during my interaction with patients. Many of my patients have told me that our efforts to end blindness gives them hope. Hearing that encourages me to work even harder to turn that hope into a reality.”