Skip to content
Several pictures of doctors who are featured on the Local Legends web site

MEET LOCAL LEGEND: Muriel Isolde Kaiser-Kupfer, M.D.

Picture of Muriel Isolde Kaiser-Kupfer
Scrapbook not available

Muriel Isolde Kaiser-Kupfer, M.D.

“I have followed some of my patients for as long as 25 years and been able to observe the results of my scientific work firsthand. More importantly, I have developed a real love and affection for them.”


Chris Van Hollen



A 1957 graduate of Wellesley College, Muriel Isolde Kaiser was one of only four women (and 74 men!) in the 1961 class of The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Immediately upon graduation, she began a Johns Hopkins University Hospital residency in pediatrics that would eventually lead to her becoming one of the world's foremost researchers into genetic disorders of the eye. As Representative Chris Van Hollen stated, by "focusing on patients whose vision loss is associated with having inborn errors of metabolism, Dr. Kasier-Kupfer's work changed the world of those who benefited from her cutting-edge research."

As a newly minted pediatrician who frequently saw young children with genetic diseases of the eye, she soon grew impatient with simply diagnosing–and not being able to treat the illnesses. As a medical scientist, she was determined to develop new knowledge about the causes. And as a clinician, she longed to apply what she learned to improve the eyesight of the visually impaired of all ages.

Recently retired as Chief, Ophthalmic Genetics and Visual Function Branch, National Eye Institute, which she joined in 1972, Kaiser was nominated to be a Local Legend of Medicine by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-8).

It was during a two-year residency at the University of Washington, in Seattle, studying genetics and ophthalmology (and meeting Carl Kupfer, M.D., who would become her husband), that Kaiser laid the groundwork for her future success in two especially difficult diseases: gyrate atrophy, a degenerative disease of the retina, and cystinosis.

Left untreated, gyrate atrophy usually results in severe visual disability and legal blindness by middle age. In 1977, Kaiser and her associates began an 18-year study of two families, each with two children suffering from gyrate atrophy, which would link the disease to an enzyme deficiency and demonstrate that its progression could be significantly retarded through a special diet.

Kaiser reached a significant scientific milestone in 1987 when she described, in the New England Journal of Medicine, a procedure to remove the crystals in the cornea by administering topical cysteamine eye drops in patients with nephropathic cystinosis, a genetic disorder in which cystine crystals accumulate in organs and tissues throughout the body.

In the eye, these crystalline deposits induce many symptoms including severe pain and discomfort sometimes so incapacitating that patients cannot open their eyelids. Her collaboration with Dr. William Gahl of the National Institute of Child Health and Development led to the successful cystinosis treatment and in 1990 she was recognized by the Cystinosis Foundation with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

Author or co-author of more than 100 scientific papers, Kaiser was encouraged from the start by her family to reach for the highest rung. By linking her findings in the laboratory to treatment in the clinic, she was able to touch the lives of countless children and adults through her many distinguished scientific contributions to the understanding of the eye, its diseases and disorders.



Earns M.D. from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore


Completes pediatric internship, residency and fellowship, and then serves as Assistant Director and Instructor at the Johns Hopkins University Hospital.


Completes residency in Ophthalmology and serves as consultant in congenital defects clinic, University of Washington School Medicine, Seattle


Assistant Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC


Serves successively as Medical Officer, Section Chief, Branch Chief and Deputy Clinical Director, National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland




Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland


Pediatrics, Ophthalmology

Sub Specialty