Academy Upcoming Deadlines
• Fellows must submit nominations for Academy 2014 Denver awards by April 1, 2014, to Helen Viksnins at [email protected].
• The Academy Nominating Committee is accepting names of potential candidates for the Board of Directors for the upcoming election at Academy 2014 Denver. Fellows can submit names by April 15, 2014, to Jana Kurtz at [email protected] or by mail to 2909 Fairgreen St, Orlando, FL 32803.
• The Scientific Program submission window for Academy 2014 Denver will be open from May 1 through May 31, 2014.
• Registration and housing will open on May 28, 2014, for Academy 2014 Denver.
ORGANIZATION AND INSTITUTION NEWS
AEVR News on Congressional Briefings and Funding
Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 funding
An omnibus funding bill is expected to be released by Monday, January 13, although Congress needed to vote on a short-expiration date.
• Two Congressional events occurred in February. On February 25, a Congressional Reception was based on the AEVR 20th Anniversary Celebration: Value of Federally Funded Vision Research. It featured Paul Sieving, MD, PhD, Director, NEI, and Peter McDonnell, MD (Wilmer Eye Institute/Johns Hopkins), AEVR President and host.
On Wednesday, February 26, 2014, a Congressional Briefing Recognizing World Glaucoma Week 2014 was held during the American Glaucoma Society’s Advocacy Day. The briefing focused on NEI-funded research into the genetic basis of glaucoma. It featured Harvard researchers Janey Wiggs and Lou Pasquale as the speakers.
• And early this month (March 6), there is a Congressional briefing, the fifth in a series on battlefield vision trauma research, with USC researcher Mark Humayun as the featured speaker. (Deployment-Related Vision Trauma Research: Development of a Thermo-Responsive Patch for Ocular Trauma)
Funding News: $30M More for Vision Research in FY2014 Appropriations
Recently, the Senate followed the House in passing the Consolidated Appropriations Act that finalizes FY2014 appropriations, which is awaiting the President’s signature. In links at NAEVR, there is a statement that thanks Congress but urges adequate NEI funding and presents summaries of the NIH/NEI and Vision Trauma Research Program funding, along with the bill’s Joint Explanatory Statement. There is $30M increase in FY2014 for vision research funding over FY2013 in the Consolidated Appropriations Act. Overall, the NIH budget is increased $1 B, which reflects a 3.5% increase over the FY2013 postsequester/transfer.
ASCO’s Cultural Competency Case Study Competition
On January 16, 2014, the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) announced its Cultural Competency Case Study Competition open to optometry students and residents with awards totaling $5000. This includes optometry students and optometry residents at the 21 accredited schools and colleges in the 50 US states and Puerto Rico. The ASCO Guidelines for Culturally Competent Eye and Vision Care can be found at: http://www.opted.org/files/Guidelines_CulturallyCompetentEyeAndVisionCare.pdf
Submissions will be accepted between February 17 and April 14, 2014.
“Prevent Blindness” Is New Name for PBA
On January 13, 2014, Prevent Blindness America announced that it had changed its name and logo to “Prevent Blindness.” Having started in 1908, it describes itself as the nation’s oldest eye health and safety organization. Prevent Blindness notes, “Prevent Blindness is using the new name as a launching pad to refocus efforts around a number of key areas including awareness of diabetic eye disease with the growing diabetes epidemic, women’s eye health, children’s vision, improving the quality of life for those living with low vision, and an increased role in public health research related to vision.”
World Glaucoma Congress in Hong Kong 2015
The sixth World Glaucoma Congress will be on June 6 to 8, 2015, at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center.
As the organizers note, the World Glaucoma Congress is the largest glaucoma meeting held anywhere. “Following the successful Congresses in Vienna, Singapore, Boston, Paris, and Vancouver, WGC-2015 will be open to all glaucoma care providers, including glaucoma specialists, visual scientists, clinicians, other ophthalmologists, optometrists, nurses, technicians, and others with an interest in glaucoma. A technical exhibit area will be available to learn about the latest diagnostic and therapeutic technologies and possibilities. Hong Kong is a city that connects East and West in a décor of history, business, and tremendous natural beauty. The Organizing Committee invites you to join us in Hong Kong from June 6 to 9, 2015, for World Glaucoma Congress 2015!”
Report from the American Society for Cell Biology Annual Meeting
Late in 2013, the American Society for Cell Biology annual meeting produced some interesting commentary and opinions about research advances and expectations. Among them was the interest in both basic and translational research and the promise of stem cell research.
Two articles in the December 16 issue of The Scientist (Tracy Vence) provided some interesting highlights in these areas. In highlighting some challenges to researchers, made apparent at the meeting, Vence observes, “There’s no question that life scientists today are under increasing pressure to produce results of clinical significance. But where, exactly, is this push toward translational research coming from? And what role do scientists working on basic biological questions have to play in advancing medicine? These were key points of discussion at the annual American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) meeting this week. ‘[This is] an era where many of our society members feel increasing pressure to do work which is so-called translational,’ ASCB President Don Cleveland from the University of California, San Diego, said during a keynote presentation.”
Vence continues, “Shrinking federal science budgets have certainly incentivized cell biologists and other life scientists to abandon basic research questions for projects with translational potential. But, of course, at the heart of funding decisions are scientists themselves.” Vence notes that some prominent attendees made excellent points, noting among other things that it is the scientists who are sitting on the grant review panels, and that sometimes the term “significance” is too narrowly defined in terms of translational research, “rather than the fact that something is ‘significant’ for other reasons, such as advancing scientists’ understanding of basic biological processes.”
As Vence observes, “Indeed, drug discovery and development are largely dependent on basic biological discoveries. ‘The more data you have about a target and a disease, the better,’ Genentech’s James Sabry said at the meeting. ‘Once we find a target, we can build a therapeutic against it,’ he said. ‘What we are not so good at is identifying the target . . . and that is a fundamentally biological question, not a pharmaceutical question.’ Sabry added that even those researchers working on basic research questions who do not suspect their work has translational potential may one day be central to solving a clinical problem. ”
At the same ASCB meeting, the Keynote speaker, researcher Elaine Fuchs of Rockefeller University’s J Craig Venter Institute, made interesting comments. As Vence describes it, “in discussing her work to decipher the transition from stem cell quiescence to activation, that for as much as researchers know about progenitor cells, there is much left to learn. ‘There is a lot of exciting science left to do in the stem cell field,’ Fuchs said, during her keynote talk on the biology of stem cells, in which she spoke about her group’s work investigating cancer stem cells and the niche-specific signals that instruct stem cells to divide at certain times, like during periods of hair growth.
Craig Venter took the stage immediately after Fuchs and noted that advances in single-cell sequencing technology and synthetic genomics have been a boon for stem cell research, allowing researchers to pinpoint the genetics of stemness. He and his colleagues are now developing methods to rewrite the genetic code of stem cells.”
Basic Science Contribution to Clinical Care
Next month, OVS readers will be treated to the publication of an impressive Anterior Segment Symposium held at the 2012 annual meeting of the Academy of Optometry. Part of what was impressive was the way in which the four clinical optometry-trained speakers, each now an international leader in basic research in anterior segment and corneal diseases, provided remarkable insights into the way basic research has made significant impact on clinical care options. It will be the lead article in Optometry and Vision Science’s first online-only bonus Supplement (Discovery and Clinical Care) for April 2014.
At the beginning of January 2014, an article in The Scientist made a strong case for recognizing the critical role of basic science in clinical care advances. The authors argue, “Basic biomedical research is key to conquering communicable diseases, which can spread rapidly around the globe, and the noncommunicable conditions behind the premature deaths of an increasing number of people. Many scholars believe that there is a correlation between support for fundamental biomedical research and the improvement of health outcomes, even though knowledge gleaned from basic research usually takes several decades to be applied in the clinic.
Basic research has traditionally been funded in great part by public money. Both small investigator-initiated studies and large collaborative scientific projects, such as the mapping of the human genome, would have not been possible without public financial support. Unfortunately, however, basic research in the life sciences is usually underfunded. (Yet) In the United States, National Institutes of Health funding for all biomedical research has remained relatively stagnant since 2003. And in some countries, basic biomedical research now receives less support than it did just a few years ago.”
Limbal Stem Cell Assessment Tool Assessment of Corneal Treatments
An article in the January issue of Stem Cells Translational Medicine describes an objective tool for measuring and grading the complement of limbal stem cells in cases of an eye disorder called limbal stem disorder (LSCD) in which the stem cells responsible for forming the epithelium of the cornea are destroyed by injury or disease. This results in pain and loss of vision. According to the researchers reporting the new tool, it is needed because currently many new treatments, including limbal stem cell transplants, are emerging for this condition but their effectiveness remains to be proven. The research team at University College London and Moorfields Eye Hospital in London named its assessment method the Clinical Outcome Assessment in Surgical Trials of Limbal (COASTL) stem cell deficiency tool and validated its performance in 26 patients with varying degrees of LSCD. They report that the tool has been used in one treatment of LSCD with good documentation of the results and initially and for follow-up for 3 years. According to the lead researcher Dr. Shortll, “The COASTL tool showed that, following allo-CLET (treatment), there was a decrease in LSCD severity and an increase in visual acuity up to 12 months posttreatment, but thereafter, LSCD severity and visual acuity progressively deteriorated.” For somewhere between 25 to 30% of the patients, the visual benefit still persisted after 3 years.
The article is at: doi: 10.5966/sctm.2013–0210 Stem Cells Trans Med January 2014 vol. 3 no. 11.
Good News on Cancer Reduction Over 20 Years
The American Cancer Society recently released a report based on data collected that indicates that cancer incidence has been decreasing and is, as of 2010, much less than it was 20 years ago. With more than 1.6 million incident cases and almost 0.6 million deaths projected in 2014, the enormity of the health problem remains, but the good side of the story is a 20% decline that the report notes, “The combined cancer death rate (deaths per 100,000 US population) has been continuously declining for two decades, from a peak of 215.1 in 1991 to 171.8 in 2010.” For the report, the data were collected and were contributed by the National Cancer Institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, and the National Center for Health Statistics.
In Vivo Microscopy of the Brain
In yet another dramatic breakthrough in viewing the tissue and events in our brain, scientists have discovered ways to actually look at neurons in a mouse cortex and even follow synaptic activity during periods of days in the mouse. In a recent article in The Scientist (January 1, 2014, Jessica Wright), these “recent advances in neuroscience now allow an unprecedented look at the working brains of living animals.” Wright notes, “The Scientist consulted with experts in live rodent brain imaging to bring you a guide for peering into the working brain. Employing these techniques, researchers can return to the same glowing neuron over time, noting structural changes resulting from experience or drug treatment. And they can use indicator molecules that light up when neurons fire to reveal a continuously updating map of neural activity in the brain.” In her review, Wright details the steps needed to look at physical shapes of individual neurons, returning to specific neurons on another day, and noting structural changes resulting from experience or drug treatment.
Wright points to the potential of this research by noting, “But recent advances in neuroscience now allow an unprecedented look at the working brains of living animals. With new lenses and probes, researchers can peer deeper into the brain than ever before. And clever setups are providing a glimpse into the brain activity of rodents as they explore both real and virtual worlds, revealing the neural activity that underlies natural behavior.”
Ancient Colors Revealed for Extinct Reptiles
New scientific tools and discoveries are yielding remarkable clues and details about the past, and we are no longer surprised to learn, as we reported last month, that the DNA of ancient human ancestors, or at least Neanderthals, has been able to be reconstructed from a big toe bone found in caves in Spain. Now we learn that we can get a good idea of the colors of reptiles that have been extinct for many thousands, even millions, of years. In a recent article in The Scientist (Ed Yong), the author notes that, “Since 2010, palaeontologists have been deducing the color schemes of dinosaurs by studying their melanosomes, small pigmented structures preserved in their fossilized feathers. Finally, artists could do what was once unthinkable: paint their long-extinct subjects in their actual hues, rather than relying on guesswork.” Yong refers to a researcher from Lund who published an article January 8, 2014, in Nature. He notes, “His (John Lindgren) team has discovered traces of melanosomes, and the dark pigments they contain, in the skins of three fossilized marine reptiles: an ancient leatherback turtle; a dolphin-shaped ichthyosaur; and a mosasaur, an aquatic flipper-limbed relative of monitor lizards. The team found that its ancient leatherback turtle—a 55-million-year-old specimen from Denmark—probably had a very dark back and a light belly. This pattern, known as countershading, is seen in many modern animals like great white sharks, penguins, and living leatherbacks and helps to camouflage the creatures from onlookers both above and below. A dark melanin-rich back also allows the modern leatherback to absorb the sun’s heat more quickly and maintain a high body temperature. This ability probably helps it to grow to a huge size quickly and to survive in both the warm tropics and near-freezing poles. ‘It’s the only turtle you find in these High Arctic environments and, if you look at its skin, it’s jam-packed with these melanosomes,’ says Lindgren. ‘There’s a good chance that the fossil turtle lived a very similar life.’”
The presence of melanin may explain why the skins of these reptiles were so well preserved. Unlike other molecules that break up with energy or heat, melanin absorbs ultraviolet radiation and protects cells from high temperatures and chemical assaults.
The publication by the researcher from Lund is J. Lindgren, et al., Skin pigmentation provides evidence of convergent melanism in extinct marine reptiles. Nature. doi:10.1038/nature12899, 2013.
New Species by the Thousands and Some Become Extinct
OVS has occasionally made a note of both the extinction and discovery of species in the past. Recently (December 2013), the World Wildlife Fund published a list of 441 new species that have been discovered in the Amazon, alone, in the last 4 years: 258 plants, 84 fish, 58 amphibians, 22 reptiles, 18 birds, and one mammal.
Among the notable new species discovered worldwide in 2013 are some interesting examples. The Scientist (Jeff Akst, December 26, 2013) highlights a “top 10.” They range from a beetle in French Guiana, a skeleton shrimp off the California coast, a butterfly orchid, a “slavemaker” ant from St. Louis, a leaf-tailed gecko from Australia, a new scorpion species from Turkey, a new tapir species, a humpback from Australia, and a new dwarf gecko species found in the West Indies.
Light Can Glue Tissues Together
As practitioners fascinated by light, vision, and the eye, any article that draws our attention to new ways to think about light and its positive effects can be interesting to our patients and us. A recent article in The Scientist (Anna Azvolinsky, January 8, 2014) exposes yet another application of light—to help glue tissues and seal blood vessels. It is not surprising that surgeons will be interested. According to Azvolinsky, “researchers in Boston have developed and tested a new type of surgical glue. The material has all the right properties: it sticks well to wet tissue, repels blood and water, and is strong enough to bind major blood vessels even when under the pressure of flowing blood. The team, led by Jeffrey Karp, a bioengineer at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA, and Boston Children’s Hospital cardiac surgeon Pedro del Nido, has so far shown that the glue can seal the carotid artery and stick to the heart wall during surgery in pigs.”
But we ask, “How does light play a role in these new tissue glues?” She notes, “The resulting glue contains a chemical that, when activated by ultraviolet light, creates free radicals that lock the polymer in place but allows the material to remain elastic.” Although the results have so far been characterized as “proof of principle,” there is understandably high interest. The article reporting the research is N. Lang, et al. A blood-resistant surgical glue for minimally invasive repair of vessels and heart defects. Science Translational Medicine. 10.1126/scitranslmed.3006557, 2014.
What Can Grizzly Bears Tell Us About Obesity and Diabetes?
Recently, the Wall Street Journal (Rajah Bose, December 15, 2013) had an intriguing article on research performed at Washington State University involving grizzly bears. The bears (who take in as much as 58,000 calories in a day and weigh 1000 lb) are part of studies on obesity and diabetes, and the researchers believe that their results might provide strong hints on new treatments for humans.
As Rose notes in the article, “In the weeks before hibernating, bears pack away enough apples, berries, and salmon to put on 100 lb or more under their brown fur. Their bad cholesterol jumps and blood pressure spikes. But unlike humans, their health doesn’t suffer. Bears’ arteries don’t clog from the gorging, nor do the animals battle heart attacks or turn into diabetics. Why can bears get fat without getting sick? Biotech company Amgen is trying to answer that question, hoping to help humans who suffer from diseases like heart disease and diabetes.” Amgen is supporting the study. According to Rose, “Washington State University says it has the only facility in the world housing adult grizzlies for research. Behind chain-link fences, the 12 bears wander along grassy hills and among Douglas firs and Ponderosa pines or they relax inside concrete dens and runs. When winter nears, they hibernate.”
Animal Rights Activists Stun Italian Researchers and Politicians
Science Insider News (January 9, 2014) drew attention to some quite nasty publicity opposing animal research in Italy. According to the report, the activity shocked animal researchers, “The battle over animal research in Italy took a nasty turn this week when anonymous activists posted fliers showing photos, home addresses, and telephone numbers of scientists involved in animal research at the University of Milan and labeled them as ‘murderers.’ The leaflets, which appeared in the night of January 6 and 7, triggered widespread condemnation in academic and political circles.”
Ophthalmologist Colleague Honored for Low Vision Contribution
Donald C. Fletcher, MD, was recently presented with the Secretariat Award by the American Academy of Ophthalmology in recognition of his lifetime of helping others learn techniques to live with low vision and contributing to international low vision missions, education, and programs. The award is one of the highest honors bestowed by the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Fletcher is the medical director for Envision’s Wichita-based Vision Rehabilitation Clinic, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.
New Diabetes Drug Approved by FDA
On January 8, 2014, we learned that the FDA has approved a new diabetes drug that is a sodium glucose cotransporter 2 inhibitor said to block the reabsorption of glucose by the kidney, increase glucose excretion, and lowers blood glucose levels.
As MedPage Today staff writer (Cole Petrochko) points out, “The FDA has approved dapagliflozin (Forxiga) for treatment of type 2 diabetes in adults, along with diet and exercise.” The approval comes with strings, however: drug makers Bristol-Myers Squibb and AstraZeneca must conduct six postmarket studies, which include a cardiovascular outcomes trial in patients with baseline cardiovascular disease risks, a bladder cancer risk trial, an animal study looking at drug-induced urinary flow and bladder tumor promotion, two trials on risks in pediatric patients, and an enhanced pharmacovigilance program to study liver abnormalities and pregnancy outcomes. Apparently, “Safety and efficacy were established in 16 clinical trials of over 9400 diabetes patients and showed patients had improvements in HbA1c with the drug (dapagliflozin). (It) should not be used by patients who have type 1 diabetes, increased ketones in their blood or urine, moderate or severe renal impairment, end-stage renal disease, or those on dialysis. Nor should patients with active bladder cancer receive the drug.”
Ruling on J & J Trademark Removal to Be Appealed
According to AOA News (January 10, 2014), the Wall Street Journal has reported (January 10, 2014) that “Johnson & Johnson announced its intent to fight a Chinese ruling removing the company’s trademark required to market diabetes-marketing products within the country, stating its disappointment with last month’s State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) ruling to strip its OneTouch trademark from blood-testing products. The ruling follows an application from Chinese pharmaceutical company Guilin Zhonghui’s to remove the trademark. Johnson & Johnson, however, maintains that faulty versions of its products are hazardous to patients’ safety.” REUTERS (January 9, 2014, Jourdan) also covered the story. Jourden notes, “US drug maker Johnson & Johnson will appeal a ruling by a Chinese government agency to strip it of exclusive rights to its OneTouch trademark of diabetes monitoring products,” the company said in a statement e-mailed to Reuters on Thursday. If upheld, the ruling by the SAIC could open the door for copycat firms to sell similar products under the same name in China, which has the largest number of diabetes patients in the world.
Spending on diabetes is expected to climb in China as the number of cases rises to 142.7 million in 2035 from 98.4 million now. Spending in 2011 reached $17 billion. “Johnson & Johnson, which has invested in the Chinese market under this brand for almost 10 years, is extremely shocked by the decision and is very disappointed,” the company said in its statement.
Gel Sealant for Cataract Surgery First Approved for the Eye
According to a Medscape report, the FDA has approved a gel sealant for use in cataract surgery to replace stitches. The product is ReSure Sealant, manufactured by Ocular Therapeutix, Inc. The company describes it as “a synthetic polyethylene glycol hydrogel indicated for prevention of postoperative fluid egress from incisions with a demonstrated wound leak following cataract surgery.” Christy Foreman, Office of Device Evaluation in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health notes, “The FDA has approved gels like ReSure for sealing small incisions in other parts of the body, such as the lungs, but this is a first of its kind for the eye.” The FDA said, “the company will perform a postapproval study evaluating at least 4857 patients undergoing clear corneal cataract surgery to gather more information on the incidence of adverse events associated with ReSure Sealant.”
ILUVIEN Shipments Begin to UK Hospitals
Recently, OVS News noted that ILUVIEN, a drug intended for chronic diabetic macular edema for diabetic patients had been approved for use in National Health Service hospitals in the United Kingdom. Now we learn (January 13, 2014) from Alimera Sciences Inc. “that it has begun shipping initial orders of ILUVIEN to several United Kingdom National Health Service (NHS) facilities. Additionally, on January 10, 2014, the first NHS patient received an ILUVIEN implant for the treatment of chronic diabetic macular edema (DME). Back in November 2013, the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published final guidance for ILUVIEN, clearing the path to patient availability through the NHS. NICE requires clinical commissioning groups, NHS England, and local public health authorities to comply with the recommendations in the final guidance within 3 months of its date of publication.”
Risk Evaluation Product for Wet AMD
On January 16, 2014, it was announced that Nicox Inc. and Sequenom Laboratories have entered into an exclusive agreement in the age-related macular degeneration (AMD) field. As part of this agreement, Nicox has been granted the North American promotional rights to the Sequenom Laboratories RetnaGene AMD laboratory-developed test for the evaluation of a patient’s risk of AMD disease progression within 2, 5, and 10 years. Nicox expects to begin promoting the RetnaGene AMD test in the United States in the first half of 2014. Jerry St. Peter, executive vice president and general manager of Nicox, said, “The ability to identify those patients most at risk of progressing to wet AMD represents a major opportunity in North America.”
SynergEyes Launches New Service for Hybrid Contact Lenses
On January 8, 2014, SynergEyes launched new Concierge Service related to its hybrid contact lenses. According to SynergEyes, “Concierge Service” uses online technology “to not only train doctors and their staff in identifying and fitting candidates for Duette lenses but to also virtually attend patient dispensing.”