Academy New Orleans: Upcoming Deadlines
Coming up first, this month, is the submission window for the Scientific Program.
- May 1 to 29—Scientific Program Submission Window Open
- July 1 to 31—Academy Student Travel Fellowship Application Window Open
- July 13 to August 28—Residents Day Submission Window Open
- August 3—Early Bird Registration Discount Ends
- October 7 to 10—Meeting Dates, New Orleans
Academy Fellows Honored with 2015 Helen Keller Prize
Fellows of the Academy will be pleased to learn that two of their colleagues were just named as the Helen Keller Prize winners for 2015. Gordon Legge, PhD, FAAO, recent Academy Prentice Medalist, and Bob Massof, PhD, FAAO (William Feinbloom Awardee 2000), shared this year’s prize as the 2015 Helen Keller Laureates. They will accept these awards on Tuesday, May 5, at the ARVO (Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology) meeting in Denver. Both Gordon and Bob have made remarkable contributions to Low Vision research over many years and their Awards will not come as any surprise to Academy Fellows.
Academy Fellow Highlights Vision Loss of Veterans
In February 2015, two authors published an article “Often Overlooked, Vision Loss Plagues Veterans” in ARMY Magazine. One of the authors was Academy Fellow Greg Goodrich, PhD, FAAO. His coauthor and colleague in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), National Program Director for Ophthalmology Glenn Cockerham, MD, will participate this month in a National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (NAEVR)–sponsored ARVO (Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology) session on “Vision and Traumatic Brain Injury in Veterans and Athletes.”
The National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research recently drew our attention to its request that Congress fund the Vision Research Program (VRP) in Department of Defense (DOD) appropriations at $15 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 for extramural research into deployment-related vision trauma, which is not conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs, elsewhere within the DOD, or at the National Eye Institute. The National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research notes that the Blinded Veterans Association was joined by 11 Veterans Service Organizations and Military Service Organizations in echoing NAEVR’s request. Since the VRP was created and funded by Congress in FY2009, it has awarded 60 grants totaling $45 million to researchers addressing penetrating eye injuries, corneal healing, retinal/corneal protection, traumatic brain injury–related visual dysfunction, the eye blast phenomenon, and vision rehabilitation. Glenn Cockerham, MD, was joined by retired VA research colleague Greg Goodrich, PhD, in stating that “[We] are worried that vision loss—which often takes months, if not years, to uncover—could be this generation’s Agent Orange.”
Academy Fellow and Diplomate Elected California Optometric Association President
Congratulations to Barry Weissman, OD, PhD, FAAO, for being elected President of the California Optometric Association.
ORGANIZATION AND INSTITUTION NEWS
Study Results for Diabetic Macular Edema from NEI
As three different drugs are emerging for treatment of diabetic macular edema, a study sponsored by the National Eye Institute (NEI) suggests that for mild vision loss, all three drugs performed similarly, but for more advanced vision loss, the study suggested that one of the drugs (Eylea) performed better.
Here is the report from the NEI press release on February 18, 2015. “In an NIH-supported clinical trial comparing three drugs for diabetic macular edema (DME), Eylea (aflibercept) provided greater visual improvement, on average, than did Avastin (bevacizumab) or Lucentis (ranibizumab) when vision was 20/50 or worse at the start of the trial. However, the three drugs resulted in similar average improvement when starting vision was 20/40 to 20/32. Investigators found no major differences in the safety of the three drugs. The trial was funded by the National Eye Institute (NEI), part of the National Institutes of Health. ‘This comparative effectiveness study will help doctors and patients make informed decisions when choosing treatments for diabetic macular edema,’ said NEI Director Paul A. Sieving, MD, PhD. The trial was conducted by the Diabetic Retinopathy Clinical Research Network (DRCR.net), which is funded by NEI. The results were published online today (February 18, 2015) in the New England Journal of Medicine.” (NEI makes available a useful YouTube video clip that clinicians may want to use in their practice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQ-0RkPu35o)
Training Visual Attention
If a study participant were instructed to pay attention to “scenes” and he was attending well, he would be shown the top image as a reward. As his attention lapsed, the middle and bottom images would be shown. The face in the photograph is that of the study’s first author, Megan deBettencourt, and a doctoral candidate at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute. In its press release on the study the National Eye Institute (NEI) funded, they note (February 19, 2015): “People are bad at staying focused. We’ve all had our minds wander when we try to concentrate on a task that requires paying close attention but isn’t all that engaging. But a new NIH-funded study suggests that one’s capacity to stay focused can improve with real-time feedback. ‘The reason we are bad at staying focused is because we are bad at monitoring our attentional state,’ explained Nicholas Turk-Browne, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Princeton University. Dr. Turk-Browne’s lab led the study published in Nature Neuroscience. ‘Normally, the only way we know that our attention is drifting is when we make a mistake. But by then, it’s too late.’ For example the root cause of driving off a road—a lapse in attention—happens well before any ensuing accident. So Dr. Turk-Browne and his team asked: What if people could be warned about their waning attention long before they made a mistake? And could they use this feedback to learn to stay more focused, even when no longer provided with feedback? To answer this question, the researchers recruited several adults to participate in a three-day experiment. Each day, study participants were rapidly shown photographs of male or female faces superimposed on indoor or outdoor scenes. After viewing each image, the participants pushed a button if the image met preset criteria, for example if it showed a male face. In this case, they had to pay attention to the face and ignore the scene.”
On the second day, participants were scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of the brain. With this, the investigators were able to monitor the attentional state of participants—that is, whether they were attending to faces or scenes—because these categories trigger different patterns of brain activity. Participants were then given feedback about their attentional state, which determined what the next presentation would be. Loss of attention would make the next image harder to see and vice versa. On the third day, no feedback was given, but the people who had received fMRI feedback on the second day had significantly fewer lapses in attention compared with a control group that had received random fMRI feedback.
As the NEI press release continues, “the findings have widespread implications. The authors suggest that it might be possible to develop strategies for enhancing attentiveness among people with occupations such as truck driving or baggage screening. They could also lead to new behavioral interventions for people with attention deficit disorder or depression.”
Myopia Meeting Notes Rising Prevalence and Impact
A number of scientists, researchers, and clinical experts from around the world discussed the rapidly increasing prevalence, the vision, social, and economic impact of myopia and reports that myopia is now the leading cause of blindness in older people in Tajimi, Japan and in Shanghai, China. The meeting reviewed evidence on the epidemiology, etiology, vision consequences, pathology, social and economic impact, morbidity associated with, and interventions that may be helpful in reducing the threat of myopia. Dr. Serge Resnikoff said, “a major contribution from the meeting was the definition and description of the retinal condition that causes blindness with myopia so that future surveys can accurately record the number of people with vision impairment and blindness from myopia.” The World Health Organization and the Brien Holden Vision Institute sponsored the meeting jointly.
Londoners’ New Low-Vision Aid on Trains
Medical News Today reported (March 10, 2015) “A ground-breaking trial is underway at Pimlico Underground station to assist blind and partially sighted people to navigate independently, using Bluetooth beacons and a smartphone app. The Wayfindr system has been developed by ustwo, a studio which builds digital products and services, in response to the RLSB Youth Forum’s desire to be able to navigate London Underground (LU) without assistance. The beacons transmit a signal that can be picked up by smartphones and mobile devices. Wayfindr uses these signals with ustwo’s indoor positioning technology to locate itself and give audible directions to the user. The app is paired with commonly available ‘bone conduction’ earphones that do not prevent wearers from hearing the sounds around them.”
ASCO President-Elect and Academy Fellow Named Optometrist of the South
Academy Fellow and incoming ASCO (Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry) President (July 1, 2015), Richard Phillips, OD, FAAO, has been named Optometrist of the South at the recent SECO meeting. He was honored in part for his leadership that led to the construction of a new academic complex to encouraging optometry students to become more involved in their profession at the regional and national levels.
Light Put to Use: Optogenetics without the Genetics
Last month, I did a brief news item in OVS News highlighting optogenetics. Here is an interesting report of a research advance that also uses light. However, it isn’t quite “optogenetics.” In a March 12, 2015, article in The Scientist (Jeff Akst), the author introduces us to this new concept. Akst writes, “Using a modified scorpion neurotoxin or antibodies to target gold nanoparticles to the surface of neurons, researchers have created a new way to stimulate brain cells in culture. All it takes is a little bit of light to heat the particles, which changes the capacitance of the membrane, resulting in the depolarization of the cell and the firing of an action potential. ‘We call it optogenetics without the genetics,’ said biophysicist Francisco ‘Pancho’ Bezanilla of the University of Chicago, ‘exciting cells in the nervous system without going through all the difficulty of creating a transgenic animal…. It’s a shortcut.’ Bezanilla launched the project after chatting with vision neuroscientist David Pepperberg of the University of Illinois at Chicago at a conference a few years back focused on solutions to restore vision in patients suffering from macular degeneration, in which the photoreceptors have degenerated but the ganglion cells that communicate with the brain are often still intact and functional.” The original research was recently reported in Nature: J.L. Carvalho-de-Souza et al., “Photosensitivity of neurons enabled by cell-targeted gold nanoparticles,” Neuron, 86:1–11, 2015.
Malawi to Change Eye Health Infrastructure
In a media release, we learn, “Inaugurated at the launch of its first Vision Center in Lilongwe (Milawi), A Sustainable Vision Care Model Project aims to transform the state of eye health in Malawi by strengthening the delivery of eye care services across the country. The Brien Holden Vision Institute (BHVI) and Essilor are supporting this comprehensive project to develop existing government eye health infrastructure and provide accessible, affordable and quality eye care to rural Malawians by establishing over 50 vision centers within public hospitals by 2019. In addition to supporting the establishment of Vision Centers by providing the start-up equipment required for comprehensive refractive error services, the project will contribute to the development of qualified and skilled personnel to deliver high-quality eye care Community outreach programs that will also focus on providing health promotion activities and materials to schools, communities, clinics, hospitals and other high volume areas to educate the public on the importance of eye health and regular eye examinations.”
Immortality on the Agenda Again
On a fairly regular basis, the age-old quest for immortality and agelessness resurfaces. In fact, that search is constant and every day we learn of ways that are reputed to extend human life and brain function, from chemicals to mind exercises. Now, we have an interesting article on the topic of extending the age of healthy brain function. The Scientist (Morten Scheibye-Knudsen, March 1, 2015) points to research that “hints at ways to slow the decline.” He notes, “The quest for immortality has inspired humankind since the dawn of civilization. Diverse ancient myths and religious stories tell of miracle drinks that bestowed eternal life on the gods, while kings across the ages have quested for comparable real-life elixirs. Chinese emperors, drawn by the promise of eternal life, swallowed concoctions containing everything from gold to arsenic and mercury, an often lethal cocktail. More recently, the late North Korean dictator Kim Il-Sung purportedly received transfusions of blood from young donors in hopes of extending his life. All these failed attempts at achieving longevity underscore the harsh truth that death will, inevitably, overtake us. Nevertheless, a century of research has brought us closer than ever to understanding what causes aging and what might be done to postpone its ultimate outcome.” The author outlines a brief and interesting scientific history on diet, caloric intake, and other related topics that may be bringing us closer to this “hunt for youth.”
In the same issue of The Scientist (Mary Beth Aberlin, March 1, 2015), the editor gives us a context for the focus on aging research as follows: “To die of old age is a death rare, extraordinary, and singular, and therefore so much less natural than the others. ’Tis the last and extremist sort of dying, and the more remote the less to be hoped for. It is indeed the boundary of life, beyond which we are not to pass: which the law of nature has pitched for a limit not to be exceeded.”—Michel de Montaigne, Essays, Book I, Chapter 57. This centuries-old description by the French essayist perfectly captures just how peculiar it is to arrive at the end of one’s life having escaped death by infection or diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and dementia, for which age is the biggest risk factor. Although Montaigne himself reached what was at the time considered old age, succumbing to a bacterial infection in 1592, when he was 59 years old, he certainly did achieve literary immortality.
This issue of The Scientist is about aging, and the focus is not on the diseases that are hallmarks of time’s passage, but on why cells have a limited life span and what fails on the cellular and molecular level as the years go by. It is a complicated picture, with lots of missing pieces. The field of cellular biogerontology was kick-started by the observation, published in 1961, that normal cells in culture stopped dividing after 50 or so doublings—the well-known Hayflick limit. In “Of Cells and Limits,” you can meet Leonard Hayflick and learn of his dogma-defying discovery in a profile of the unretired (and unretiring) octogenarian’s contributions to the understanding of cellular aging.
More on 3D Printing; Now a Heart
A recent News release from UC Berkeley (UCB) takes the 3D printing fascination your editor has yet another notch. The press release describes research and advances of one of our colleagues at Berkeley and is nicely described in a news bulletin (Sarah Yang, Media Relations UCB). Yang notes, “UC Berkeley researchers have created a ‘heart on a chip’ that uses human cardiac muscle cells derived from adult stem cells to model how a human heart reacts to cardiovascular drugs. The system could one day replace animals in testing the safety and effectiveness of new medications.” She continues, “the research team led by bioengineering professor Kevin Healy is presenting a network of pulsating cardiac muscle cells housed in an inch-long silicone device that effectively models human heart tissue, and they have demonstrated the viability of this system as a drug-screening tool by testing it with cardiovascular medications. This organ-on-a-chip, … represents a major step forward in the development of accurate, faster methods of testing for drug toxicity. The project is funded through the Tissue Chip for Drug Screening Initiative, an interagency collaboration launched by the National Institutes of Health to develop 3-D human tissue chips that model the structure and function of human organs.”
Readers are encouraged to view the YouTube video provided within the article to be amazed at the beating heart muscle the researchers have created (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTEp3DcPy-I).
The study was reported in the journal Scientific Reports on March 9.
And Now a Small 3D Printed Village
The same week, another colleague produced a 3D printing model made of cement. Again, the video is very interesting. For a time-lapsed video, see:
A media release from the UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design (Mary Cocoma, March 6, 2015) reports, “A UC Berkeley research team led by Ronald Rael, associate professor of architecture, will unveil today (Friday, March 6) the first and largest powder-based 3-D-printed cement structure built to date. The debut of this groundbreaking project is a demonstration of the architectural potential of 3-D printing. The freestanding pavilion, ‘Bloom,’ is 9 feet high and has a footprint that measures about 12 feet by 12 feet. It is composed of 840 customized blocks that were 3-D-printed using a new type of iron oxide-free Portland cement polymer formulation developed by Rael. Bloom is a precise 3-D-printed cement polymer structure that overcomes many of the previous limitations to 3-D-printed architecture. Such limitations include the speed and cost of production as well as aesthetics and practical applications.”
What next on 3D printing?
Progress on Ebola Diagnosis Front?
Lately, we have been hearing encouraging news on Ebola reported cases subsiding in Western Africa. Now, we learn that there may be a new and very rapid test for diagnosis. So reports both the National Public Radio (NPR, February 20, 2015) and The Scientist (Jef Akst, February 24, 2015). Akst notes, “A few drops of blood are all that’s needed to test for Ebola using a newly approved paper-based diagnostic test. Approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) last week (February 20), the ReEBOV Antigen Rapid Test Kit, produced by Broomfield, Colorado-based Corgenix, uses antibodies to test for the presence of an Ebola protein and returns results within 15 minutes.” However, “The ReEBOV test correctly identifies 92 pecent of infected people, and has a 15 percent false-positive rate, and is intended as an initial screen for the virus, with follow-up PCR tests required to confirm infection.”