Highlights from the 2017 Harvard Ophthalmology Annual Meeting and Alumni Reunion

June 28, 2017
Gena Heidary, Joan Miller, Ula Jurkunas group photo

Building diverse teams and collaborating across disciplines were overarching themes at the 2017 Harvard Ophthalmology Annual Meeting and Alumni Reunion, held June 23-24. More than 350 alumni, faculty, and trainees gathered in Boston for continuing medical education, alumni presentations, achievement awards, and intergenerational networking.

Annual Meeting

Ula Jurkunas, MD, Associate Professor of Ophthalmology, and Gena Heidary, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, kicked off the Annual Meeting on June 23, and faculty presented scientific and clinical lectures throughout the day. The centerpiece of the Annual Meeting was the 2017 Mariana Mead Lecture, presented by Robert D’Amato, MD, PhD, Professor of Ophthalmology. This lecture was established to honor the memory of Mariana D. Mead, MD, an accomplished ophthalmologist who trained and worked at Harvard Ophthalmology and Mass. Eye and Ear before she passed away in 2002. Dr. D’Amato discussed the development of thalidomide—a potent angiogenesis inhibitor—for the treatment of cancer.

Tours were offered of two unique resources at Mass. Eye and Ear. Attendees visited the new Samuel & Nancy Jo Altschuler Ophthalmology Surgical Training Laboratory, which includes some of the most advanced training equipment available today; and the Abraharn Pollen Archives and Rare Book Library at Mass. Eye and Ear, which houses an extensive collection of 2,000+ rare books dating back to 1490, as well as historical medical instruments, photographs, and hospital documents.

Poster Contest

On Friday evening, nearly 50 residents and fellows participated in the Annual Trainee Poster Contest, held during a cocktail reception at the Four Seasons hotel. Darlene Dartt, PhD, Professor of Ophthalmology, and Luk Vandenberghe, PhD, Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, judged the basic and translational entries, while Deeba Husain, MD, Associate Professor of Ophthalmology, and Mary Whitman, MD, PhD, Instructor in Ophthalmology, judged the clinical entries.

In the basic and translational research category, Sarah Wassmer, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow who works in the Grousbeck Gene Therapy Center at Mass. Eye and Ear, won first place for her poster, titled “Exosome-associated AAV2 vector mediates robust gene delivery into the murine retina upon intravitreal injection.” She works under the mentorship of Dr. Vandenberge and Eric Pierce, MD, PhD, Solman and Libe Friedman Professor of Ophthalmology. Shi Song Rong, MD, PhD, a research fellow at Mass. Eye and Ear, won second place for his poster, “Evaluation of ATXN2 intermediate polyglutamine expansions and rare variants in primary open-angle glaucoma.” He is mentored by Janey Wiggs, MD, PhD, Paul Austin Chandler Professor of Ophthalmology.

In the clinical research category, Edward Ryan Collantes, MD, and Inês Laíns, MD, both research fellows at Mass. Eye and Ear, tied for first place. Mentored by Dr. Wiggs, Dr. Collantes presented a poster was titled, “A novel nonstop MYOC mutation in a large Filipino family with juvenile-onset open-angle glaucoma.” Dr. Laíns’ poster was titled, “Human plasma metabolomic changes associated with age-related macular degeneration.” She is mentored by Joan W. Miller, MD, Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Henry Willard Williams Professor of Ophthalmology, and Dr. Husain.

The evening concluded with a celebratory gala dinner.

Alumni Reunion

As Director of Alumni at Harvard Ophthalmology and Co-chair of the Alumni Reunion, Joseph Rizzo III, MD, David Glendenning Cogan Professor of Ophthalmology in the field of Neuro-Ophthalmology, opened the day on June 24. Dr. Miller, Co-chair of the Alumni Reunion, introduced the department’s newest alumni—the Class of 2017. She also gave a department update, during which she mentioned two new fellowships—the Thomas J. Madden Fellowship in Retina, which was given to Patrick Oellers, MD, a Mass. Eye and Ear Retina Surgery Fellow; and the Abelson Family Fellowship in Cornea, which was given to Mass. Eye and Ear fellow Reena Gupta, MD. The program also included alumni presentations from representatives of the classes of 1967 to 2012 (classes ending in 2 and 7).

Donald D’Amico, MD, Professor and Chairman of Ophthalmology at Weill Cornell Medical College and Ophthalmologist-in-Chief at the New York Presbyterian Hospital, and Anthony Adamis, MD, Lecturer on Ophthalmology at HMS and Global Head of Ophthalmology, Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Genentech/Roche, presented their Distinguished Clinical and Research Achievement Award lectures, respectively.  These awards are given annually to individuals who have demonstrated a lifetime of clinical or research achievements.

D’Amico’s “platitudinous advice” for trainees was to broaden their experience—not only through professional interactions and meetings, but also by engaging in personal passions. As an example, D’Amico learned that his personal interest in fish tanks, suction tubes, and drainage devices was more relevant to his professional career than he first thought. D’Amico also encouraged trainees to take appropriate risks, manage stress, have fun, give back, and “know where you are going, but don’t forget where you came from.”

Dr. Adamis’ lecture focused on innovative approaches to ophthalmic drug development. In his talk, he discussed the evolving role of “deep-learning algorithms” in the classification and early detection of eye diseases. Advances in deep neural networks with machine learning, along with the large datasets from electronic health records and imaging databases, has created a unique opportunity in ophthalmology. Dr. Adamis noted that deep-learning algorithms are often more reliable and more precise than those made via consensus among clinicians. In fact, several reports show variability among inter-ophthalmologist ratings in imaging centers and reading rooms.

In the event’s spirit of bringing collegues together to socialize and network, Dr. Miller said, “Teamwork is central to many of the clinical and scientific breakthroughs we have seen in the field.  I firmly believe that building diverse teams and multidisciplinary collaborations—especially with those outside the field of ophthalmology—will become even more important as we seek new ways to help people."

2017 Awards

The Iraty Award for Research in Retinal Diseases— new this year—was given to David Wu, MD, PhD. This award was established by an anonymous donor to honor the life and work of Dr. Charles Schepens. It is given to a Harvard Ophthalmology faculty member who conducts research in retinal diseases.

The Gragoudas Prize for Best Basic and Translational Paper by a Mass. Eye and Ear trainee was given to Jonathan Lam, MD, and Daniel Oh, MD, (co-first authors) for “Identification of RUNX1 as a mediator of aberrant retinal angiogenesis,” which was published in Diabetes.

The Gragoudas Prize for Clinical Retina Research by a Mass. Eye and Ear trainee was given to Dr. Laíns for “Structural changes associated with delayed dark adaptation in age-related macular degeneration,” which was published in Ophthalmology.

The Best Resident Research Award in Cornea and Refractive Surgery went to Zeba Syed, MD, for her paper “Peripheral endothelial cell count is a predictor of disease severity in advanced Fuchs’ endothelial corneal dystrophy.”

The Gragoudas-Folkman Prize went to Mohammad Darouj, MD, PhD, for his project, “C-type natriuretic peptide: A new therapeutic target for diabetic retinopathy.”

Save the Date for 2018

The next Harvard Ophthalmology Annual Meeting and Alumni Reunion will be held on June 8-9, 2018.


Photo credit: Pierce Harman Photography


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