Academy Fellow and OVS Topical Editor Briefs Congress
On February 20, 2007 Debra Schaumberg, OD, ScD, MPH, FAAO, was the feature speaker at a Congressional briefing sponsored by the Alliance for Eye and Vision research in conjunction with the Women’s Eye Health Task Force and the Society for Women’s Health Research. The topic? “Genes, Lifestyle, and Vision Health: Piecing Together the Puzzle.” Dr. Schaumberg described her National Eye Institute (NEI)-funded research into the interplay of genes and lifestyle in age- related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of vision loss that affects approximately nine million Americans and will impact many more as baby boomers age.
The Focus of This Briefing and Its Importance?
Dr. Schaumberg’s cutting-edge research uses statistical and epidemiological methods to study AMD, a complex disease where multiple genetic and lifestyle variables play a role. By uncovering the genetic secrets of AMD, as well as studying the potential impact of lifestyle factors such as obesity and cigarette smoking that appear to influence the expression of these genes, Dr. Schaumberg can more fully quantify the risk for incidence of the disease, thereby enabling disease prevention or more rapid diagnosis and treatment.
What Specific Research Did Dr. Schaumberg Address?
Dr. Schaumberg’s work arises from findings from the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Human Genome Project, announced in 2005, in which two genes (Complement Factor H, or CFH, and LOC387715) were found that contain variants that account for the majority of cases of AMD. However, after studying large populations of individuals with these gene variants—representing studies conducted by various Institutes within NIH-Dr. Schaumberg observed that many people with these variants do not develop AMD. “The high prevalence of the CFH and LOC gene variants in the population suggested to us that lifestyle factors could strongly influence the effect of the genetic variants on risk of AMD,” she noted.
For example, in people with the CFH gene variant, cigarette smoking increases the risk of AMD by eightfold, and obesity increases the risk by 12-fold. In people with the LOC gene variant, cigarette smoking increases the risk of AMD by 20-fold, and obesity increases the risk by ninefold. “Obviously, knowing what a single gene variant is doesn’t reveal the whole story, which likely includes multiple genetic variants, possibly some with a protective influence, and their interplay with other factors about which we are still learning, including some modifiable risk factors,” said Schaumberg. She added that this research into AMD would also help to establish a paradigm for the study of other serious eye disorders—such as glaucoma, cataract, diabetic retinopathy, and dry eye syndrome—where genetics and lifestyle also play a role. She concluded by stating that, “Right now, it’s important to pay attention to one mystery we have solved, which is that development of AMD can be influenced by smoking and obesity, particularly among those with certain common genetic variants.”
Debra Schaumberg is an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School, Clinical Associate Scientist at Schepens Eye Research Institute, and Director of Ophthalmic Epidemiology in the Division of Preventive Medicine at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. She has been at the forefront of identifying risk factors for major eye diseases, including AMD, cataract, diabetic retinopathy and dry eye syndrome.
Cornea & Contact Lens Section Encourages More Diplomates
What does it mean to be a Diplomate in an Academy Section? That one has reached a certain standard of practice? That one has gained the respect and admiration of their peers? That one has profited from the added knowledge of studies and achieved satisfaction in the recognition of their competency? “All of the above,” says new Academy Cornea & CL Section Diplomate Award Chair, Loretta Szczotka, OD, MS, FAAO.
Loretta goes on to note “Achieving Diplomate status is a professional goal like none other in our profession. It recognizes commitment to excellence in knowledge and skill and makes those who attain this goal better practitioners for our patients and the profession.”
The AAO Cornea and Contact Lens Section is the oldest and largest Diplomate Section in the Academy, and it continues to encourage new applicants. Loretta adds, “By becoming a Diplomate you will join over 160 influential colleagues globally who share mutual interest and concerns in contact lenses, the cornea, and refractive technology and to whom you may refer patients and discuss research with confidence. What are you waiting for?”
For more information visit the Academy website or contact the Diplomate award chair at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Celebratory and Optimistic Letter from the Academy’s AOF President
“Author Jim Collins uses the metaphor of a giant flywheel gathering momentum to describe the way in which an organization makes a significant transition. As continued and steady effort is applied, the rotation increases until the wheel hits the breakthrough point, and the momentum kicks in its favor.
In 2006 the American Optometric Foundation (AOF) enjoyed a profound increase in momentum. We awarded a record number of Ezell Fellowships, increased our total assets by a quarter of a million dollars for the second straight year, welcomed a major new corporate sponsor, and established two new endowed fellowships.
In the coming year, you will hear more positive news as the Foundation’s momentum continues to grow. In 2007 the Foundation will provide around $300,000 support in research grants, Ezell Fellowships, and scholarships. A major new scholarship program, funded by Carl Zeiss Vision, will provide $5,000 in support to a third year student at every, yes every, North American school and college of optometry. In addition, each of these Carl Zeiss Fellows will receive a travel award to attend our 2008 Annual Meeting in Tampa. Carl Zeiss Vision will also support these Fellows to attend the following year’s Annual Meeting. This is a great example of the potential for synergy among the Foundation, the Academy, and a visionary corporate sponsor in the development of talented young professionals.
Some five years ago the Optometric Glaucoma Society was established. Since its inception the Society has provided some of the very best glaucoma education programs in conjunction with the Academy Meeting and hosted forums for educators and clinicians. In 2006 the Society, led by Murray Fingeret and Tom Lewis, decided to advance its mission of supporting research. It established an endowment for an Ezell Fellowship. This Fellowship will provide support for a graduate student in the area of glaucoma research. Pledges and gifts from all Academy Fellows are encouraged.
Many of our colleagues’ careers have been influenced by Mert Flom. You might have been an optometry student at Berkeley or Houston, his graduate student, attended the Academy’s leadership programs, served under his Presidency of the Academy, or were affected in other ways. Thanks to a significant lead pledge by the Flom family, the Foundation has established the Merton Flom Ezell Fellowship in Leadership. Mert Flom is a former Ezell Fellow, a former Academy President, and an academic leader of our profession in every sense. His passion for training, research, and leadership has led the Flom family to make significant lead pledges to establish an Ezell Fellowship with an emphasis on leadership, hopefully to include participation in courses and an internship. Mert and his wife Pene, Mert’s daughter Roanne, and son-in-law Tom Raasch, and Mert’s son Walt and daughter-in-law Gail have all pledged their support for the fund. Friends of Mert have also pledged substantial support with the goal of reaching the $200,000 to endow the Fellowship. We invite all Academy Fellows who have been touched by Mert’s influence and passion to support the fund by making a five-year pledge or a one-time gift. For more details visit www.aaopt.org/aof/about/ or contact the Foundation office.
Those of you who met this year’s Ezell Fellows at the AOF Luncheon in Denver, or through other interactions, will have been impressed by their credentials, their diversity, and the breadth of their research. They remind us of why the AOF’s mission is so important and what a great investment it can be for the entire profession. We awarded a record 11 Fellowships thanks in part to Bausch & Lomb adding a second fellowship, the creation of an AOF Presidents Circle Ezell Fellowship, and the Academy’s Board of Directors funding an AAO Ezell Fellowship. We again funded an Ezell Fellow from the George Mertz Fund. For the first time in my memory, we made an award to a student at an institution outside North America. Friends of George told me that he would have welcomed this initiative.
We are grateful to our corporate sponsors who partner with the Foundation on so many of our programs: Advanced Medical Optics (AMO), Alcon, Bausch & Lomb, Carl Zeiss Vision, CIBA, Essilor, and Vistakon. Personal giving remains the cornerstone of long-term Foundation growth. In the past we have benefited from the generosity of donors such as Irvin Borish, Fredric and Marion Rosemore, and many others. In 2006, we were delighted to welcome Mert and Pene Flom, Lyndon and Debbie Jones, Tom Raasch and Roanne Flom, and Lee Scaief into the Foundation’s Presidents Circle.
The good news and financial statement contained in this report demonstrate that the Foundation is gathering momentum, but needs and deserves your renewed support. As you read this report, please think about the ways in which you can invest in the future of optometry by contributing to the Foundation this year. Gifts are great, but long-term pledges—to the Flom Fund, the OGS Fund, or the Cornea and Contact Lens Section Fund—are better. I also encourage all of you, young and old, to consider the AOF in your estate planning. If you need further information or assistance, please contact the Foundation office.
In closing, I would like to thank the Foundation Board, Executive Director Lois Schoenbrun, and, last but not least, Foundation Coordinator Kristal Watkins for their work during 2006. We have set ambitious goals for the coming five years but through the Board’s energy, collaboration with Academy leadership, the generosity of individual donors, and valued partnerships with corporate supporters, the Foundation will continue to gather momentum.
Mark Bullimore, MCOptom, PhD, FAAO
Academy Fellow Elected President of European Council of Optometry and Optics (ECOO)
Last October 2006 Dutch optometrist, Feike Grit, FAAO, was elected President of the European Council of Optometry and Optics (ECOO). Dr. Grit is an advisor to the Dutch Optometric Association, Adjunct Clinical Professor in Optometry at the University of Houston College of Optometry, Texas (U.S.), and chair of the International Admittance Committee of the American Academy of Optometry. He serves as President of ECOO for two years.
Feike Grit, BSc, DSc (Hons), FCOptom, FAAO, qualified as an optician at Christian Huygensschool in Rotterdam in 1969, and then as an optometrist at City University in London in 1973. He spent his internships at the Optische Werke Rodenstock in Munich and at Guy’s Hospital and Moorfield’s Eye Hospital in London. At various times between 1982 and 2000, he was the president of the Dutch Optometric Association (OVN). He co-founded the school of optometry at the Hogeschool Utrecht (1988) and was intensively involved in the legislation to regulate the optometric profession in the Netherlands (2000). His main area of interest is the professionalization of optometry.
Other Academy Fellows were elected to the Executive Committee (Dr. Wolfgang Cagnolati (Germany)—Vice-President, and Jesús Garcia Poyatos (Spain)—Treasurer)
ORGANIZATION & INSTITUTION NEWS
Optometric Glaucoma Society (OGS) Establishes Ezell Fellowship Dedicated to Glaucoma Research
The Optometric Glaucoma Society (OGS) has established an Ezell Fellowship fund dedicated to fund postgraduate research in the area of glaucoma. The OGS is doing this in partnership with The American Optometric Foundation (AOF), a philanthropic organization that develops and provides financial support for optometric research and education. The OGS and AOF are organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service Code. The AOF is an affiliate of the American Academy of Optometry (AAO).
The William C. Ezell Fellowship was established to encourage talented graduates of schools and colleges of optometry to pursue full-time careers in research and education. The fellowship is for postgraduate students who are entering or continuing a full-time program of study and training in research that leads to the Masters or Ph.D. degree. Each student also receives travel grants to the annual meetings of the American Academy of Optometry and the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology. Applications for renewal may result in funding for up to two additional years.
To date the AOF has granted more than 200 William C. Ezell Fellowships including 21 optometric school deans and presidents, 91 optometric faculty members, and 95 Fellows of the American Academy of Optometry, including three of its presidents. Four OGS members are past Ezell fellowship recipients.
The OGS-Ezell Fellowship will provide funding for the first time to optometric researchers pursuing glaucoma research. While individuals have been awarded Ezell fellowships that were involved in glaucoma research, there was never a program specifically funding this form of study. Ben Gaddie and Tom Lewis are chairing the steering committee involved with funding the fellowship. $200,000 is needed to endow the fellowship, which will be raised over a three-year period in an industry-optometry partnership.
Past Academy President, Tom Lewis, notes, “we are reaching out to the optometry profession for support.” Checks should be made out to the American Optometric Foundation, specifying that the check be for the OGS-Ezell Fund. They should be sent to the American Optometric Foundation, 6110 Executive Blvd. Suite 506, Rockville, MD 20852. All contributions are tax deductible. Additional information on the Ezell Fellowship program is available at http://www.aaopt.org/aof/scholarship/ezell/index.asp.
UK College of Optometry Welcomes New Members and Makes Awards
On January 31, 2007 the U.K. College of Optometrists welcomed 260 newly qualified Members at its annual Diploma Presentation Ceremony at London’s Central Hall Westminster. The College also awarded Life and Honorary Fellowships in recognition of significant contribution to the College, profession and wider world of optics (picture below).
U.S. News & World Report Features Vision-Related News
The March 5, 2007 edition of week’s U.S. News & World Report has a cover story consisting of a number of vision- related stories under the banner of “The Eyes Have It.”
New contact lenses:
Age-related macular degeneration:
Computer Vision Syndrome:
High technology for the visually impaired:
The Department of Veterans Affairs Improves Services for Blinded and Low-Vision Veterans
More than a million visually impaired veterans will receive enhanced health care services from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) under a reorganization of VA’s vision rehabilitation services, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson. VA will make approximately $40 million available during the next three years to establish a comprehensive nationwide rehabilitation system for veterans and active duty personnel with visual impairments. The system will enhance inpatient services and expand outpatient services throughout the 1,400 locations where VA provides health care. Under the reorganization plan, each of VA’s 21 regional networks—called Veterans Integrated Service Networks, or VISNs— will implement a plan to provide eye care to veterans with visual impairments ranging from 20/70 to total blindness. Basic low-vision services will be available at all VA eye clinics, and every network will offer intermediate and advanced low-vision services, including a full spectrum of optical devices and electronic visual aids. VA’s 10 existing inpatient blind rehabilitation centers will continue to provide the Department’s most intensive eye care programs, but each VISN now will also provide outpatient-based blind rehabilitation care.
The VA estimates there are more than 1 million visually impaired veterans over the age of 45 in the United States. Within this group, approximately 157,000 are legally blind, and 1,026,000 have low vision. About 80% of all visually impaired veterans have a progressive disability caused by age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, or diabetic retinopathy.
AOA Leads Health Provider Coalition Committed to Putting Patient Access at Top of the New Congress’s Agenda
It has long been a concern that health care policy proposals formulated in Washington, DC, are developed behind closed doors by organized medicine, which does not want to allow input from other health care providers—like optometrists—who are on the frontline of providing care. The AOA and several other groups are joining together to be a voice of the non-MD/DO community.
The AOA Washington Office is a driving force behind the re-establishment of the PARCA Coalition, a formalized lobbying alliance of health provider groups committed to placing patient access to care issues at the top of the agenda for the new Democrat-controlled U.S. House and Senate. Other groups working with the AOA include those representing the podiatrists, chiropractors, psychologists and nurse anesthetists. In the 1990s, PARCA was known on Capitol Hill as the “Patient Access to Responsible Care Alliance” and was credited with leading a national effort in support of Patient Bill of Rights legislation.
The new PARCA Coalition has organized around the need to revive a meaningful and updated Patient Bill of Rights proposal and for a patient access-to-care alternative to the exclusionary and restrictive policies backed by organized medicine and the managed care and insurance industries. In fact, several PARCA Coalition members joined the successful AOA-led effort to defeat the AMA-backed “Sullivan Bill” (HR 5688) and its attack on the scope and standing of ODs and other non-MD/DO health providers. Other areas the coalition plans to be actively working on this year include provider non-discrimination, Medicare payment reform, and continuing battles for equitable representation and reimbursement.
Two Summer Eye Research Conferences from ARVO
This summer 2007 ARVO is sponsoring two conferences of interest to OVS readers.
The first conference, July 15 to 18 is in Warwick/Providence, Rhode Island (“Preventing Vision Loss in Diabetic Retinopathy”). Diabetic retinopathy remains a leading cause of vision impairment in persons with diabetes, and the diabetes epidemic demands improved paradigms to prevent and treat the disease in its early stages. The overall goals of this conference are to advance the understanding of how diabetes impacts the entire retina, and to develop strategies for improved clinical testing methods and interventions. The educational goals include: understanding the mechanisms of vision impairment in diabetes, new methods of phenotyping early retinopathy, interactions between vascular and neural elements of the retina, how clinical translation of laboratory data can be improved in light of experiences with clinical trials, and how various agencies can collaborate to prevent vision impairment.
The second conference is August 23 to 25 in Monterey, California (“New Frontiers in Retinal Diseases: Linking Genetics to Molecular Pathways and Therapeutic Strategies”). The conference aims to highlight and integrate often-disparate fields of relevance to disease processes and function within the retina by examining and contrasting biological and pathological paradigms worked out in other organ systems.
For more information on either conference go to: http://www.arvo.org/eweb/startpage.aspx?site=serc
First Annual Berkeley Conference on Translational Research
This month the Berkeley Clinical Science Development Program is pleased to announce the First Annual Berkeley Conference on Translational Research-Eye and Vision Science.
The purpose of this conference is to bring together San Francisco-Bay Area faculty, scientists, fellows, students, and invited guests who are involved or interested in translational research. The conference will focus on research that has a “bench to bedside” aspect.
Topics will be wide ranging, from discovery to its application in patients, and will encompass ocular, neurological and other systemic diseases and infection, and the employment of modern optical imaging, bioengineering, and molecular and cell biology techniques.
New approaches to diagnosis and treatment developed in animal models or through human-based studies are among the research to be presented. The venue will provide a platform for investigators from academia and industry to meet and communicate about their research.
There will be a panel discussion that will include members from industry, NIH, investigators, UC Office of Technology Licensing, and UCB Sponsored Projects office. The panel will examine issues that can inhibit joint industry-academic research and solutions to overcoming recognized barriers to such collaborations.