Suzanne M.J. Fleiszig
Suzanne M.J. Fleiszig, OD, PhD, FAAO
Member, Berkeley Optometry Hall of Fame
Dr. Suzanne Fleiszig was born in Melbourne, Australia. First in her family to attend college, she went on to complete her Optometry (1983), Master’s (1986) and PhD degrees (1991) at the University of Melbourne. As a graduate student she engaged in optometric practice part-time, in both a private practice setting and in the university clinic where she also served as a clinical instructor. Her Master’s thesis, addressing the impact of pan-retinal laser photocoagulation on vision in diabetics, was completed at the Department of Ophthalmology, University of Melbourne at a time when no other research was ongoing in the department. That experience sparked her lifelong interest in understanding ocular disease pathogenesis. Her PhD project tackled the newly evolving problem of contact lens-related infection, requiring her immersion into the field of microbiology, and setting up a basic biology wet lab in the optometry department where one did not yet exist. The opportunity to spend 6 months at the Infectious Diseases division of the Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School in her final year allowed her to hone her skills while continuing her own project and introducing the department to eye research. This led to two fellowship awards allowing her return to Harvard as a postdoctoral fellow in late 1990, before being promoted to Instructor in Medicine in 1993.
Dr. Fleiszig was recruited to UC Berkeley’s School of Optometry in 1994, spending the first two years receiving additional experience/training in cell biology at UCSF. She is currently a Distinguished Professor of Optometry & Vision Science, with additional appointments in the Microbiology, Infectious Disease & Immunity, and Health & Medical Science graduate programs, and is also an adjunct faculty member of the UCSF Proctor Foundation.
While Dr. Fleiszig’s lab continues to focus on microbe-ocular surface interactions and the impact of contact lens wear, the goals have broadened toward understanding intrinsic resistance to infection in general, how opportunistic infections are enabled, and identification of strategies to prevent all types of infection. Over the years, this has taken her lab into the fields of cell biology, immunology, molecular biology, molecular genetics, engineering, imaging, and most recently neuroscience. The research has been continuously funded by grants and gifts from the NIH, industry and foundations, including a Gates Foundation Grand Challenges award on the very first round of the program. Outcomes have led to ~120 publications, 4 patents, and multiple awards including the Irvine and Beatrice Borish (1997), Glenn A. Fry (2005) and Max Shapero (2016) awards from the American Academy of Optometry/American Optometric Foundation, and the Ruben Medal from the International Society for Contact Lens Research. She has been invited to present numerous award lectures, including the Nissel lecture (British Contact Lens Association, 1995), Distinguished Lectures (Harvard, 2007 and 2018), Thygesen lecture (2011, American Academy of Ophthalmology), and both the Ralph and Sophie Heintz (2004) and Chandler Dawson (2011) lectures at UCSF Department of Ophthalmology.
While at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Fleiszig taught Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology to first year medical students for three academic years utilizing what was then a novel teaching method named Problem Based Learning (PBL). Drawing on that experience, she introduced the concept of PBL to both the UC Berkeley Optometry and Vision Science programs, establishing the first two courses using the method. She also served as an instructor in the clinic in primary care until 2010. Dr. Fleiszig has served as instructor in charge of ocular anatomy and physiology classes in both the optometry and the vision science programs continuously since joining the school. She remains a proponent of student directed learning.
Dr. Fleiszig has served the university in many leadership roles. Within the school, she has been Associate Dean of Basic Sciences (2003-2006), Faculty Chair (2017-2021), and chaired the Faculty Recruitment Planning Committees in 2006 and 2013. Campuswide, she was a member of the Chancellor’s Signature Initiative “Lighting the way to the future of the public research university” (2018-2019), and she has served the university systemwide through multiple terms on the Assembly Representation Committee between 1996 and 2021. She is a current member of the Science@Cal Advisory Council.
A career-long passion has been promoting optometry outside the profession, and nurturing connections between the fields of eye/vision research and microbiology/infectious disease research. This has resulted in an extensive external service record, including multiple leadership roles across those fields. She has served as the President of the International Society for Contact Lens Research (2007-2009), the Vice-President of the Tear Film and Ocular Surface Society (2009-2013), the Chair of the Immunology and Microbiology Section of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO, 2006-2009), and the Vice-Chair/Chair of the 2010/2012 Cornea Gordon Research Conferences (GRC). Meanwhile, her contributions to the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) have also been extensive; serving as a Division Chair (2007-2009), a Councilor (2009 – 2022), the Chair of the Host-microbe biology strategic planning retreat (2018), the Chair of the Council on Microbial Sciences (2019-2022), and as a member the Nominations Committee (2021-2022). In 2023 she was elected to a three-year term as a Governor of the American Academy of Microbiology (AAM). A fellow of the AAO, ARVO and the AAM, she has also served both of her fields through her work with the NIH, as a standing member of the Anterior Eye Disease (2005-2009) and the Bacterial Pathogenesis (2015-2021) study sections. In 2021 she served on a 13 member Blue Ribbon Panel for the Center for Scientific Review that revised the review process for grant proposals in the fields of microbiology/infectious disease and vaccine development. She currently serves on the Editorial Boards of 7 journals across her disciplines.