Getting to know Dr. Kokame, Managing Partner of Retina Consultants of Hawaii

Dr. Gregg T. Kokame, MD, MMM

graduated from Iolani School, received his bachelor’s from Pomona College, and medical training at UCLA Medical School. He received his retinal training from the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, the top ophthalmology training institution in the nation. Read about Dr. Kokame’s journey in his path in ophthalmology and his memorable invited lectures.

Ophthalmology, the understanding and treatment of eye diseases, has been my lifelong professional pursuit and passion.  In specific, as a retina specialist, I have dedicated my life to understanding and treating retinal diseases, many of which were previously untreatable or treated with only minimal impact in the past.  My retina training was at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, the birthplace of modern vitreoretinal surgery.  While there, I felt privileged to learn from the world’s best and the world’s leaders in understanding and treating retinal diseases.  As a retina fellow there, I felt that I was part of a legacy of leaders in the management and treatment of retinal disease, as so many leaders in our field were former fellows or faculty at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute.


What were your most memorable invited lectures?


My first major international invited lectureship was by Professor Yasuo Tano, the father of modern vitreoretinal  surgery in Japan.  In 1999 he invited me to give 7 lectures as part of an internationally renowned faculty from all over the world, including Europe, the USA, South America, and Asia.  I was one of only 4 vitreoretinal surgeons invited from the USA, the others being Dr. Hilel Lewis, the chairman of the Cole Eye Institute of the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Mark Blumenkranz, the chairman of Stanford, and Dr. Steve Charles, one of the most influential vitreoretinal surgeons of our time.


My lectures included exciting new advances in the management of macular holes, – a hole developing in the central vision area of the retina, that was previously untreatable before surgery was developed.  Another topic was the exciting new idea of subretinal surgery, pioneered by another former Bascom Palmer fellow, Dr. Matthew Thomas in Saint Louis.  Another lecture was on the management of dislocated implants, which occurs when the optical implant placed at the time of cataract surgery falls out of place.  My mentor at Bascom Palmer, Dr. Harry  Flynn, has been one of the leaders in management of dislocated implants, and this has inspired me for the past 25 years to continue to do research to manage this challenging problem.  Recently, this lifelong research was published as a book chapter on Dislocated Implant Management in the book, Cataract and Retinal Disease, edited by Dr. Dennis Han, the chief of the retina division of the Department of Ophthalmology of the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.  Milwaukee has had one of the most well- known retinal training programs in the nation, previously led by 2 former Bascom Palmer alumni, Dr. Thomas Aaberg, Sr., and Dr. Gary Abrams.


In 2000 I was privileged to do my sabbatical at the world renowned Moorfields Eye Hospital in London under the auspices of Professor Alan Bird, a world expert in medical retina, and Professor Zdenek Gregor,  a leader in vitreoretinal surgery in Europe.  While there, I was invited to speak at Grand Rounds at Moorfields on Vitreomacular Traction Syndromes associated with a Circular Premacular Defect in the Posterior Cortical Vitreous, and on the Induction of Visual Field Defects due to Pressurized Air Flow during Vitrectomy.  During this time I also was able to make new contacts with colleagues also training at Moorfields from Europe and Australia.


The greatest honor is to be invited back to where you trained, as it shows that the professors that trained you respect what you have accomplished since you left the Institutes.


In February of 2001 Bascom Palmer Eye Institute celebrated its 40th Anniversary.  It was a great honor to be invited back to be one of 6 panel members in the discussion of macular hole and epiretinal membranes.  This panel included the Father of Medical Retina and my biggest role model, Dr. J. Donald M. Gass, one of the founding fathers of the Bascom Palmer Eye institute.  Dr. Gass published his theories of macular hole pathogenesis, which developed during the time of my fellowship in retinal diseases at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute.  His work inspired our early research in Hawaii into macular hole surgery, and our participation in the first multi-centered clinical trials on macular hole surgery, and the prevention of macular hole surgery.


In February of 2012 Bascom Palmer celebrated its historic 50th Anniversary with a Gala Scientific Meeting.  To be a part of this historic chapter for the leading eye institute in the nation was a tremendous honor, which I will always cherish and remember fondly.  I was invited to lecture on Sustained Release Drug Delivery Devices for retinal vein occlusion, which presented current and future delivery systems, which allow prolonged treatment effects enabling less frequent delivery of medicine into the eye for treatment.


This past year in 2013 the Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA invited me back to UCLA to present the Pettit Lecture, one of the honored speakers at the Annual Postgraduate Seminar for the Stein Eye Institute.  I presented on our newest research, which has involved treatment trials with antiangiogenic drugs for polypoidal choroidal vasculopathy (PCV).  These studies have helped to define the role of these drugs in this particiular problem.  PCV is a leaking and bleeding problem in the central vision part of the retina, which occurs from abnormal blood vessels developing under the retina, and occurs more commonly in Asian populations.


In May of 2011 we were invited to present our PCV research in London at the EURETINA meeting, a prestigious meeting of retinal specialists in Europe.  In 2014, we have been invited back to present on antiangiogenic therapy for PCV.  These invitations are important to show that our research has developed to the point of having world-leading importance.


The academic lectures have culminated from the work of the entire research team at Retina Consultants of Hawaii, and the doctors, including Dr. James Lai, Dr. Raymond Wee, and our international retina fellows through the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine.