Joan W. Miller—First Woman to Receive the Charles L. Schepens MD/American Academy of Ophthalmology Award

October 29, 2018

Headshot of Harvard Ophthalmology Chair Joan W. Miller

On October 26, Joan W. Miller, MD, the David Glendenning Cogan Professor and Chair of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School and the Chief of Ophthalmology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Massachusetts General Hospital, received the 2018 Charles L. Schepens, MD/American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) Award. The  award recognizes her seminal contributions to the field of retinal disorders.

Dr. Miller and colleagues pioneered the development of photodynamic therapy with verteporfin (Visudyne®)-the first approved drug to reduce and slow vision loss in patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The group also identified the key role of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in ocular neovascularization, leading to the development of anti-VEGF therapies. For their role in the development of anti-VEGF therapy for retinal disease, Dr. Miller and her colleagues were honored with the 2014 António Champalimaud Vision Award—one of the highest distinctions in ophthalmology and visual science. Dr. Miller continues her research on innovative therapies for retinal disease.

As part of this honor, Dr. Miller presented the Schepens Award Lecture on the AAO Retina Subspecialty Day. Her talk—Developing Therapies for AMD: The Art and Science of Problem-solving—revisited the pathway to successful treatment of neovascular AMD, and then explore the hurdles and potential strategies to develop a new generation of therapies for AMD. The strategies include a combination of analytic and innovative processes. Dr. Miller believes everyone can be an innovator.  

“We live in a very connected and over-stimulated society, so you need to disconnect to engage this innovative thought,” she explained. “So, choose your surroundings. You want a broad, diffused attention. You can stare into the distance, you can block out sounds with white noise, or choose a quiet place. A positive mood is helpful. Be patient. Innovation doesn't respect deadlines. And wait for your eureka moment.”  

The lecture was well-received by attendees, and covered by AAO’s ONE Network, Eyetube, and Ophthalmology Times.   

Joan W. Miller AAO Video Interview

A Retina Pioneer and Trailblazer for Women

Dr. Miller is the first person to receive all three highly esteemed awards—the Charles L. Schepens, MD/AAO Award, Gertrude D. Pyron Award of the Retina Research Foundation, and the Lucien Howe Medal from the American Ophthalmological Society. And in 2015, she became the first woman to receive the Mildred Weisenfeld Award for Excellence in Ophthalmology for the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthlamology. 

Recognized for her exceptional leadership abilities, Dr. Miller became the first woman physician to be appointed Professor of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School in 2002. The following year, she became the first woman ever appointed chief at Mass. Eye and Ear and Mass General Hospital and chair at Harvard Medical School.

Among her numerous honors, she is a member of the National Academy of Medicine and the Academia Ophthalmologica lnternationalis and has authored more than 200 original research articles and 80 book chapters, review articles and editorials.