“All Group B’s, now ready to board!” announced the flight attendant over the loudspeaker as I prepared to travel to ARVO 2015. ARVO is the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology and its Annual meeting welcomes researchers in eye and vision science to share their research.
As I slung my poster around my shoulder, I spotted a young woman carrying her own poster. She was an ophthalmology resident presenting a clinical case on retinal detachments at ARVO 2015. While boarding the plane, we continued to discuss our backgrounds, discovering that we were both New Jersey natives where she attended medical school with one of my closest high-school friends. When the plane finally landed in Denver, Colorado, we were once again greeted by the majestic Rocky Mountains frosted with snowcaps left over from the American Academy of Optometry meeting last November. Next to us, two professors were conversing in rapid Chinese, while an Indian woman was telling her friend about her ten-hour flight. The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology hosts the largest international research conference in the world!
For those of you planning to visit for the first time, however, don’t worry about getting lost in the crowd. ARVO is especially accommodating to Members-in Training with special MIT events designed for students and trainees. Following registration, I quickly ascended the escalator to the second floor of the Denver Convention Center in order to attend my classmate Kristen Kerber’s poster presenting her amblyopia research. This time, I was not greeted by fashionable glasses displays and optometry vendors, but rather, I encountered a massive sea of posters. Starting at the front and working my way back, I passed presentations on every conceivable vision-related subject. It was a regular Who’s Who of the optometry world. I spotted Dr. Brian Holden from the Holden Institute in Australia and Dr. Richard Stone, a major contributor to myopia research in chicks (my research area). After the poster session, Kristen and I decided to listen to a few myopia paper presentations. One particularly exciting one introduced a new iPad App for Teller Acuity cards, which was cheap, portable and could be used in screenings all over the world.
Before long, it was time for the ARVO Sunday Social event, “A Night at the Museums”. While enjoying cocktails and appetizers we strolled through the Denver Art Museum and the Clyfford Still Museum. One of my favorite pieces was “Linda” by local artist John DeAndrea, a sculpture so life-like you wanted to tiptoe in order not to awake the young woman asleep on the marble block.
The following afternoon, it was my turn to present my poster entitled “Antagonist Effects of Atropine and Timolol on the Color and Luminance Emmetropization Mechanisms” based on my Master in Vision Science thesis which I had successfully defended a few days prior to the conference.
Laura presents her poster with NECO Associate Professor Frances Rucker
No sooner had I fastened the last push pin to the poster than I found myself surrounded by a group of Chinese researchers. The fact that the Chinese have performed some of the best-known clinical trials of the use of atropine to slow myopia progression may have sparked their interest in any new findings involving this anti-myopia drug. I felt excited to discuss the results of our study with them as well as the other scientists stopping. Our results found that atropine with luminance flicker produced a greater hyperopic shift than atropine alone, possibly due to the release of the neuroretinal transmitter dopamine, known to decrease eye length in animal models. During a quick break, I noticed a student from Emory University School of Medicine presenting two boards down and decided to introduce myself. His research focused on mouse models in which they studied the effects of eliminating dopamine on the ocular components. Interestingly, they too found that, without dopamine, the eye became longer. One of my favorite parts about ARVO was the chance to meet other students who shared interest in similar research areas.
Late afternoon featured two outstanding lectures. The first was the Proctor Award Lecture, “Regulation of Retinal Vascular Growth: Development, Pathology and Therapy” by Dr. Patricia D’Amore. This was followed by the Weisenfeld Award Lecture, “Beyond VEGF” presented by Dr. Joan Miller. VEGF is a growth factor produced by the body that is responsible for bleeding and vision loss in the eye in patients with diseases such as diabetes. In the past several years, significant funding has been allocated towards developing new “Anti-VEGF” drugs that help to stop and/or even reverse this process. Dr. Miller is the first woman honored with this award, serving as a role model and inspiration for all of us young female researchers. The evening came to a perfect conclusion with the Student/Trainee social.
The next day I attended the Seventh Annual Women in Eye and Vision Research Luncheon hosted by the ARVO Foundation. Dr. Lilly Marks, Vice President for Health Affairs for the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical, spoke on the topic of “The Art of Negotiation.” Woman involved in all aspects of vision research, from industrial scientists at Pfizer Pharmaceuticals to post-docs at UCLA, listened intently as Dr. Marks discussed how to handle the “challenges women in academic medicine face in negotiating for resources, positions and programs.” This presentation reinforced how dreams can be turned into reality simply by having the courage to ask.
I was lucky to have the opportunity to personally attend such wonderful presentations at ARVO 2015. Reflecting back, it was amazing to meet so many of the incredible people behind the treatments that are currently used in our clinics, all with the common goal to continually improve vision care. Before concluding, however, I would like to pay special tribute to the amazing ARVO/Alcon Closing Keynote Session delivered by Dr. Ian Crozier and his outstanding medical team from Emory University and the CDC. The session entitled “Ebola and the Eye: A story of Discovery and Uncertainty” brought a message of sacrifice and hope so powerful, it moved the audience to tears. The next day, Dr. Crozier’s story was published in the New York Times, but I heard it first at ARVO 2015!