The ARVO Foundation mission shines through at ARVO 2018
By Paul Sternberg, Jr., MD, FARVO
When I learned that the ARVO 2018 Annual Meeting was going to be in Honolulu, my reaction was probably similar to many of yours: excited about the opportunity to travel to Hawaii, but anxious about the distance and the cost. However, as I reflect upon my experiences there, I have only wonderful and extremely positive memories of a week balanced with fabulous scientific immersion and the multicultural, beautiful and friendly environs.
While I have been attending ARVO meetings over the last 40 years of my career, this was my first as chair of the Board of Governors of the ARVO Foundation. The ARVO meeting is the place where the ARVO Foundation’s mission shines through — to help bring people to the meeting who otherwise may not be able to participate, to support special guest speakers, to reward talented and innovative scientists and to enhance the ARVO experience. I can proudly say we were able to do all of these things in Honolulu.
The week opened for me at the ARVO Foundation Gala on the Saturday evening preceding the Meeting with over 500 friends and colleagues gathering to raise funds to support the ARVO Foundation’s mission. In Hawaiian shirts and leis, we enjoyed a collegial environment where we were entertained by island music, enjoyed poke and other native foods and celebrated three icons of the vision research world: Nicolas Bazan, MD, PhD, FARVO; Shigeru Kinoshita, MD, PhD, FARVO; and Alice McPherson, MD. As the sun set in the background and the tropical breezes wafted in, there could not have been a more magnificent kickoff to this special Meeting.
The next morning — the first official day of the Meeting on Sunday — I joined a breakfast to welcome this year’s Developing Country Eye Researcher Travel Fellows who are hosted by the ARVO Foundation. Eight individuals from five continents were introduced to ARVO for the first time and matched with experienced ARVO mentors. Their combination of anxiety and excitement was palpable, but it was clear that they were in for a life-changing experience. Reflecting on her week at ARVO, Jeanne Mayouego Kouam, MD, an ophthalmologist and aspiring researcher from Cameroon said, “I was shyly hoping to get so much from this unique opportunity. At the end, what I was offered was far beyond all my expectations. I learned a lot about eye and vision research and about myself. I met a lot of very encouraging people, with sparkling positivity and inexhaustible creativity. You have deeply impacted my career and changed my life for good.”
That afternoon, I attended a special glaucoma session, featuring the winners of the Dr. David L. Epstein Award, a prestigious award that honors Dr. Epstein’s legacy as a leader in glaucoma and as a devoted mentor of other clinician-scientists. The award is unique in that it funds a research project between a clinician-scientist mentor and a mentee in that individual’s lab. The inaugural winners Jonathan Crowston, MBBS, PhD, (mentor) and Peter van Wijngaarden, MBBD, PhD, (mentee) from the Centre for Eye Research Australia in Melbourne discussed the research project funded by the award in a well-attended session. Later in reflection, Dr. van Wijngaarden wrote, “I wish to thank you sincerely for selecting Jonathan and me as the inaugural recipients of the Epstein Award. We were both moved by this honor and hope that our presentation reflected this. The work that this award has enabled stands as a solid foundation for further inquiry.”
Monday evening featured the opening of the ARVO/Alcon Keynote Series with speaker Jennifer Doudna, PhD. This brilliant scientist dazzled a standing room only audience with her story of how she developed the technology for efficient site-specific genome engineering using the CRISPR/Cas9 nucleases for genome editing. In addition chronicling the details of the science, she also articulated her concerns over the potential bioethical issues and fielded numerous questions from our highly attentive audience of vision scientists. Afterwards, Doudna expressed her admiration for the energy and engagement of the vision science community of ARVO — an expression we know was heartfelt as she was moved to make a generous gift to the ARVO Foundation in memory of her mother following the Meeting.
On Tuesday, I attended my first Women in Eye and Vision Research (WEAVR) Luncheon. In a sold-out banquet room, I had the privilege of sitting with the three young women who received travel awards that had been supported by funds raised at the previous year’s luncheon. Emily Y. Chew, MD, FARVO, deputy clinical director and the director of the division of epidemiology and clinical applications at the National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, gave a talk about the importance of replication in science. She entertained numerous questions on this controversial issue from junior and more seasoned investigators, leading to a marvelous dialogue.
While these vignettes are the highlights of my week in Honolulu, they only represent a fraction of the incredible talks I heard, Special Interest Groups sessions I attended and posters I scanned. Everywhere I went, I encountered the entire spectrum of our membership, spanning gender, age and cultural diversity. And perhaps because of its distance, attendees seemed to stay for the entire meeting and to take advantage of everything ARVO has to offer.
As I begin my term leading the ARVO Foundation, I am thrilled to share its strong health and vibrant energy. In fact, during the ARVO Meeting with a matching gift of $15,000 from ARVO members Joyce Tombran-Tink and Colin Barnstable providing extra incentive, the ARVO Foundation raised over $32,000. In addition, we welcomed our 100th member to the Dowling Society, our special group of donors who have given or pledged $10,000 or more to the ARVO Foundation. ARVO is an extraordinary organization supporting meaningful and impactful research to cure the devastating effects of eye disease, and it is a privilege for the ARVO Foundation to help ARVO succeed.