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AAOF Announces 2019 VSP Global Scholarship Recipients

Nearly $200,000 was awarded to several top performing fourth-year optometry students.

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(PRESS RELEASE) ORLANDO, FL – The American Academy of Optometry Foundation (AAOF), the philanthropic arm of the American Academy of Optometry (AAO), and VSP Global announced the recipients of this year’s Practice Excellence Scholarships. Nearly $200,000 was awarded to several top performing fourth-year optometry students in the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada, as well as four additional international students from Australia.

This year, in honor of the 3rd World Congress of Optometry held in conjunction with the Academy meeting in Orlando, Florida, VSP Global added an Australian Practice Excellence Scholarship, open to students from four institutions: Deakin University, Flinders University, Queensland University of Technology School of Vision Science and the University of New South Wales.

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“The Practice Excellence Scholarship is another example of our commitment to optometry’s next generation, and we are honored to extend this recognition to optometry students in Australia, a country in which we have a strong optometrist network,” said Gordon Jennings, OD and VSP Global Board Chairman.

Two students from each school or college of optometry as well as one student from each Australian institution were selected by nomination from their individual institutions to receive the scholarship. Since 2010, VSP Global has provided more than $2.4 million in scholarship support to hundreds of optometry students.

The scholarships are funded through VSP’s Global Charitable Fund and are administered through the AAOF. Scholarship recipients were selected based on key criteria including the student’s commitment to enter the independent practice of optometry, and their clinical and academic performance.

“We are very grateful for the continued partnership we have with VSP,” said Pete Kollbaum, OD, PhD, FAAO, and President of the American Academy of Optometry Foundation. “Through VSP’s continued support of this partnership they are demonstrating their commitment to advance optometry, the Academy, and, most importantly, the clinical care patients are able to receive. We are very grateful for their foresight in supporting these very deserving future leaders and their dedication to support the future of optometry.”

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Each scholarship included a travel grant to participate in the American Academy of Optometry’s 98th annual meeting, Academy 2019 Orlando, which was held on October 23-27 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL. The recipients were recognized at a special reception sponsored by VSP Global.

The 2019 Practice Excellence Scholarship recipients are:
  • Illinois College of Optometry
    Lauren Kunkel, Aaron Motacek
  • Indiana University School of Optometry
    Mary Marte, Kalyn Wendholt
  • Inter American University of Puerto School of Optometry
    Samantha Chan, Travis Lipscomb
  • Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences
    Taylor Hall, Danielle Zapata
  • Michigan College of Optometry at Ferris State University
    Steven Gibbs, Ankur Patel
  • Midwestern University Arizona College of Optometry
    Jennifer Dryden, Liza Stremick
  • New England College of Optometry
    Alexa Caruso, Chelsey Kritzer
  • Northeastern State University Oklahoma College of Optometry
    Sahab Astani, William Colton Cheek
  • Nova Southeastern University College of Optometry
    Phoebe Pan, Kaitlin Brown
  • The Ohio State University College of Optometry
    Alex Lamorgese, Adell Walters
  • Pacific University College of Optometry
    Liandra Jung, Ashley Stone
  • Pennsylvania College of Optometry at Salus University
    Andrew Muckin, Emile Seitz
  • Rosenberg School of Optometry
    Patrick Clark, Kelly Tran
  • Southern California College of Optometry at Marshall B. Ketchum University
    Alyssa Pack, Emiko Vasquez
  • Southern College of Optometry
    Katelyn McGee, Trevor Shealy
  • State University of New York College of Optometry
    Abigail Cash, Alicia Jones
  • University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry
    Mason Childers, Mohammed Haque
  • University of California Berkeley School of Optometry
    Stephanie Tran, Rebecca Stapornkul
  • University of Houston College of Optometry
    Ashley Nguyen, Megan Wagner
  • University of Pikeville Kentucky College of Optometry
    Kristen Lantz, Jacob Webster
  • University of Missouri -St. Louis College of Optometry
    Kelly Deering, Abigail Smith
  • University of Montreal School of Optometry
    Antoine Aidans van der Poel, Lara Tchakmakian
  • University of Waterloo School of Optometry and Vision Science
    Komal Patel, Angela Zhang
  • Western University of Health Sciences College of Optometry
    Kenny Huynh, Aiko Seffinger
Australian Practice Excellence Scholarships
  • Deakin University
    Emily Banks
  • Flinders University
    Dylan Bentley
  • Queensland University of Technology School of Optometry and Vision Science
    Derek Shiu Him Lay
  • University of New South Wales
    Ivy Kol

For more information, visit https://www.aaopt.org/home/aaof.

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First US Patient Gets Wireless Retinal Device Implant

It’s aimed at restoring partial sight to patients with advanced age-related macular degeneration.

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(PRESS RELEASE) PITTSBURGH – UPMC has implanted the first patient in the U.S. with a new wireless retinal device as part of a clinical trial aimed at restoring partial sight to patients with advanced age-related macular degeneration.

“Vision research has advanced dramatically in the recent past and UPMC is at the forefront of this revolution. This is the first of many such breakthroughs led by UPMC and Pitt that will benefit patients with vision loss in our community and around the world,” said José-Alain Sahel, MD, director of the UPMC Eye Center, Eye and Ear Foundation chair of ophthalmology and distinguished professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine who initiated the trial at UPMC. “We are proud to be the first center in the United States to test this next generation retinal implant that could help treat an incurable disease like AMD.”

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The system, called PRIMA, is designed to restore sight in patients blinded by retinal degeneration. It consists of a 2 millimeter-by-2 millimeter, 30-micron thick miniaturized wireless photovoltaic chip placed under the damaged retina. It works in tandem with augmented reality glasses that have a built-in miniaturized camera and infrared projector.

The chip acts like a tiny artificial retina, made up of 378 tiny electrodes that convert infrared light from the glasses to electrical signals that are carried by the optic nerve to the brain. After receiving the implant, patients undergo an intensive rehabilitation program that trains their brains to understand and interpret the signals from the implant in combination with their remaining natural vision. Compared to earlier-generation implants, PRIMA is wireless and has significantly more electrodes, which allows for the transmission of more visual information.

“This is an incredibly exciting first for us at UPMC and I’m honored to be a part of it,” said Joseph Martel, MD, the implanting surgeon at the UPMC Eye Center and the Pitt School of Medicine, and the principal investigator of the trial at UPMC. “I’m grateful to our patients who have volunteered to participate in this trial, without whom this would not be possible.”

AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in people older than 50. Today, it affects approximately 14 million people in the United States, and the prevalence is expected to rise as the baby boomers age. As AMD progresses, the center of vision becomes increasingly blurry. “Atrophic” AMD, which accounts for a large proportion of advanced cases, has no curative treatment available.

The UPMC feasibility trial is running in parallel with the first-in-human trial in France, which involves five patients with advanced AMD, who now have been followed for more than a year. The 12-month results from the French study demonstrated the ability of most patients to identify sequences of letters and there were no device-related serious adverse effects.

“We are working with a great sense of urgency because the aging population of the United States, especially the western Pennsylvania region we live in, will see a significant rise in the number of patients at risk for vision loss through diseases like age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and vascular eye disease, as well as earlier onset genetic conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa,” said Sahel. “This is why our physicians and researchers at UPMC and Pitt, in collaboration with our U.S. and international colleagues — especially at the Paris Vision Institute at Sorbonne University — are taking a multi-pronged effort to treat and rehabilitate patients with vision impairments.”

In March 2019, UPMC broke ground on the UPMC Vision and Rehabilitation Tower at UPMC Mercy, which when completed, will provide advanced specialty clinical care and innovative programs for visually impaired patients. It also will be the home for the vision research program at Pitt and UPMC.

The PRIMA implant was invented by Daniel Palanker, professor of ophthalmology at Stanford University, and licensed and developed by Pixium Vision, a spin-off from the Paris Vision Institute. Sahel is a co-founder of Pixium and holds shares in the company.

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There Might Be a Faster and Cheaper Way to Test for Myopia

The research comes from Flinders University in Australia.

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(PRESS RELEASE) Myopia could become significantly easier to assess, according to a group of scientists.

Progressive research at Flinders University in Australia has identified a new method to measure how it affects the eye, a new article in PLOS ONE reveals.

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The work was based on testing of 70 volunteers, with the Flinders ophthalmology and medical device research institute experts taking a novel approach with optical coherence tomography (OCT), a device already available in most optometric and all ophthalmic practices.

“Our work uses the OCT and finds irregularities at this scale that correlate with the size of the eye, and therefore the degree of myopia,” says eye specialist Dr. Stewart Lake, from Flinders University.

“This may help monitor, measure, and explore the effects of myopia and how it leads to vision loss,” he says, adding that further development could make the system suitable for use in regular clinical practice.

Prior research elsewhere with MRI scanning has demonstrated large scale irregularities in the eyeball in highly myopic eyes.

OCT can sample the shape of the eye on a much smaller scale than MRI. The OCT testing will be far cheaper, is more readily available and repeatable as a test, researchers say in the article.

Myopia (short or near-sightedness) is for many an inconvenience requiring glasses or contact lens to correct. However, globally it is an epidemic and a major cause of vision loss and sometimes blindness.

Myopia is defined practically by the strength of lens required to correct eyesight. It was already known that myopia relates strongly to the size/length of the eyeball.

Global estimates forecast up to 5 billion people will have myopia and 1 billion people could suffer with high myopia by 2050, placing a significant burden on health systems to manage and prevent myopia-related ocular complications and vision loss.

This seven-fold increase, between 2000 and 2050, would make myopia the leading cause of permanent blindness worldwide.

High myopia increases the risk of pathological ocular changes such as cataract, glaucoma, retinal detachment and myopic macular degeneration, all of which cause irreversible vision loss

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Prevent Blindness Promotes Glaucoma Awareness This Month

More than 3.2 million Americans ages 40 and over have the condition.

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(PRESS RELEASE) CHICAGO – According to estimates from the Prevent Blindness report “Future of Vision: Forecasting the Prevalence and Costs of Vision Problems,” more than 3.2 million Americans ages 40 and over have glaucoma in the year 2020. The number is expected to increase as the population ages. Glaucoma, often referred to as the “the sneak thief of sight,” is a leading cause of vision loss that damages the optic nerve. Although symptoms may not be noticeable at first, glaucoma slowly diminishes peripheral vision, making activities such as driving increasingly difficult.

January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month and Prevent Blindness, the nation’s oldest volunteer eye health and safety nonprofit organization, seeks to educate the public on the disease, including risk factors, types of glaucoma, treatment options and more. Prevent Blindness offers a dedicated web page providing patients and their caregivers with free information at https://www.preventblindness.org/glaucoma or its online resource, Living Well with Low Vision at https://lowvision.preventblindness.org.

More women than men have glaucoma. Risk factors for glaucoma also include:

  • Age – The older you are, the greater you are at risk (especially those more than 60 years old).
  • Race – African-Americans age 40 and over are 4-5 times more likely to have glaucoma than others. Hispanics are also at increased risk for glaucoma as they age. Those of Asian and Native American descent are at increased risk for angle closure glaucoma.
  • Family History – If you have a direct relative with glaucoma, you are more likely to get glaucoma. If you are diagnosed with glaucoma, strongly encourage your family members to get complete eye exams.
  • Medical History – You are at higher risk if you have a history of high pressure in the eyes, previous eye injury, long term steroid use, or are farsighted or nearsighted.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) also states that those with diabetes, migraines, high blood pressure, poor blood circulation or other health problems affecting the whole body are at increased risk of glaucoma.

“The year 2020 is an ideal reminder for all of us to make the resolution today to save our vision for tomorrow,” said Jeff Todd, president and CEO of Prevent Blindness. “By detecting vision problems and treating them early, including those from glaucoma, we can help to avoid significant vision impairment.”

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