John Clark, PhD, FARVO

Get to know John Clark, ARVO president-elect

Originally published in the Spring 2015 issue of ARVONews

John Clark, PhD, FARVO, will serve as ARVO’s 2015 – 2016 president. He is the Lens Section Trustee and is professor and chair of the University of Washington’s Department of Biological Structure. Read on as he shares some recollections of his early days in research and the role of ARVO and its members — particularly students — in the process of discovery.

My research, then and now

As a student, my earliest research experiences were in physical chemistry and optics. The laboratory was isolating the mitotic spindle, which turned out to be composed largely of cytoplasmic microtubules. Before the isolation of tubulin from the brain, lens cells were among the richest source of cytoplasmic microtubules, and so it was natural to develop a research interest in the eye.

Today, the fundamental linkage between aging in the eye and brain is well established. Because the cells in lens do not turn over, their sophisticated natural protective mechanisms against molecular aging is where I spend a lot of my scientific energy. Like most cells in the eye, the cross disciplinary opportunities for studies of lens cell differentiation are numerous and exciting.

Students and innovation

ARVO laboratories are providing the fundamental research necessary to address the biomedical problems of low vision and blindness locally, nationally and internationally. It is often students who generate the innovative experiments that become breakthroughs.

Many of us can remember the days (and nights) when, as students, we were free to dream of hypotheses that defied our textbooks and resulted in the creation of fundamental new knowledge. Some of us think of Sarasota or Woods Hole as sites that stimulated our scientific excitement like a burst of bioluminescence from Gonyaulax polyedra and Aequorea victoria.

Educating people outside the lab 

My hope for ARVO is to demonstrate to patients and their families that the advances being made and the new knowledge being created through research in vision and ophthalmology is bringing us closer to eliminating low vision and blindness as biomedical problems.

We all know the impact that our experimental studies have across interdisciplinary science. Still, some of our best moments are when we take some time to describe what we are privileged to do in the research lab, to non-scientists and young students.

I want to encourage and support all your efforts to educate and advocate to our friends, our neighbors and our students the values and the success of ARVO laboratories. 

Today’s challenges

The challenges of vision research today are not much different than in past centuries when fundamental observations were made in the Galapagos Islands, the gardens of St. Thomas Abbey or the shale beds of British Columbia. 

Long ago, nature solved the problem of blindness by connecting photoreceptors and optics with a cellular image processor. While the details of that natural achievement remain elusive, knowledge is power.

Today there is an urgency to target our research in an unprecedented attack on global blindness. It is a good time to share our knowledge with individuals across the world whose intellectual curiosity and intensity can lead to novel experiments we may think cannot work and to challenge the historical hypotheses about the biomedical basis for vision. 

I look forward to an ARVO where our experimental findings inspire a collective response from a global community of students who can focus on the mechanisms of visual function and provide bold solutions for hundreds of millions of people.

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