A Lifetime of Battling Eye Infections

Sight + Sound, Spring 2022

After 40+ years, Regis Kowalski, MS, M(ASCP), is retiring in June from the University of Pittsburgh and as Executive Director of the Charles T. Campbell Eye Microbiology Laboratory.

“I will always be a Professor of Ophthalmology,” he says. He is seeking Emeritus status.

His long and successful career began when he majored at the University of Pittsburgh in microbiology and biophysics. An opportunity then opened in the Ophthalmic Microbiology Laboratory at what was then called the Eye & Ear Hospital; he joined as a clinical and research microbiologist researching Herpes simplex virus in donor eye tissue.

Kowalski was later promoted to a faculty position in the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. In fact, he cites this as his proudest professional achievement: his promotion to Professor of Ophthalmology based on his merits.

“I have over 160 peer-reviewed publications, six book chapters, and over 250 abstracts for meeting presentations,” lists Kowalski. “I have presented on the international stage regarding ophthalmic microbiology. Our laboratory has developed a website for the Charles T. Campbell Eye Microbiology Laboratory. Through this website we can communicate with anyone in the world [about] ophthalmic microbiology. Any interested ophthalmic practice in the U.S. can use the information from our laboratory to send ocular samples to [us] for diagnosis of ocular infection.”

The Campbell Laboratory started as a “Mom and Pop laboratory,” and is still classified as one. The mission is to diagnose ocular infections in patients and to serve the ophthalmic community – both local and national. To meet this objective, they work very closely with in-house and community physicians. The laboratory is the only independent certified ophthalmic microbiology laboratory in the U.S. and is fully certified by the College of American Pathologists (CAP), the Federal government (CLIA), and the State of Pennsylvania.

Kowalski has seen many positive changes over the years in the field. Molecular diagnostics has made diagnosing eye infections in a timely, definitive manner, he says. Herpes simplex, adenovirus, herpes zoster, cytomegalovirus, chlamydia, and acanthamoeba are being diagnosed within one to three days. Other reference laboratories are now available to detect toxoplasmosis and identify unusual bacteria and fungi.

Upon retirement, Kowalski plans to travel from Pennsylvania to South Carolina, where he and his wife built a family summer home near the beach. He wants to spend time with his family, especially his two grandchildren. He would also like to author a book. He leaves fulfilled. The laboratory will continue to function under the leadership of Dr Kowalski’s collaborators and strong technical expertise will be maintained.

“Ophthalmology and the University of Pittsburgh provided me with a rewarding livelihood and many people helped me along the way,” Kowalski says. “I thank all of those people who touched my life in a positive manner, and I hope that I had an affirmative impact on others.”