ARVO President Srinivas R. Sadda, MD, Visualizes Ophthalmology's Future

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At the end of ARVO 2024, Srinivas R. Sadda, MD, became the organization's president for the 2024-2025 year. He spoke to HCPLive about his expectations for the next year in eye care.

The 2024 Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) Meeting represented another enlightening step forward for the vision science community, stimulated by critical trial data, emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), and the latest innovations for clinical practice.

At the end of ARVO 2024, president-elect Srinivas R. Sadda, MD, a professor of ophthalmology at the David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, and the director of the artificial intelligence (AI) lab at Doheny Eye Institute, became president of the organization for the 2024-2025 year.

HCPLive Ophthalmology spoke with Sadda to learn about what the position represents for him, how innovations and challenges have defined ophthalmology in recent years, and his plans for the future of ARVO during his term as president.

HCPLive: What does becoming the president of ARVO mean to you?

I'm honored to be serving as president of ARVO. It's an organization I've been involved with for over 30 years. I came to my first ARVO as a medical student and it’s been instrumental in my career. Coming to the meeting every year is a great opportunity, not only to showcase my own research, but to receive feedback from others in the community, see what they're working on, and develop new collaborations. It's, quite frankly, helped launch my research career and what I do. To serve in this capacity in the leadership role has been a humbling experience, and I’m certainly honored to be able to do it.

HCPLive: This past decade has been rife with innovations in vision science, from drug approvals to new technologies, and groundbreaking research across the specialty. How do organizations like ARVO speak to that transformation as you reflect on those innovations?

There's no question. Ophthalmology is a very technology-forward field. I would certainly say that the things that are happening, and what is being discussed, in meetings like ARVO right now, I would have never imagined when I started down this path, or when I was in my training, or even when I was early on as a faculty member.

When I was choosing my career, a lot of people were down on me being a retina specialist, because it was felt that there wasn't a lot that could be done for patients or the treatments were not very good, and it was doubtful that you could do well for your patients. Even starting with anti-VEGF therapy for wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic retinopathy, the fact that we have those treatments for patients now, most of our physicians treat patients with them.

We all expect that vision improvement should occur. When I thought about that as a possibility in the past, I would have said no question. And now we are in an era of molecular and cell-based gene-based therapeutics. At the end of last year, for the first time, we had a gene editing therapy approved for sickle cell anemia, based on CRISPR/Cas9 technology, which is pretty amazing. Recently, a similar technology approach in ophthalmology was published with data from a clinical trial.

We’re seeing the opportunity to personalize treatments and treat things we would have imagined no possibility of curing with these targeted treatments. The innovation has been staggering.

HCPLive: On the other hand, what are the ongoing challenges in ophthalmology, even as we see new, first-time approvals for diseases like geographic atrophy (GA)? What are the continuing unmet needs and what do eye care specialists need to pursue those unmet needs?

There are many unmet needs, even in GA. It was a great start to have these two proven therapies, but they only slow the disease down and slow it down modestly. There's still a long way to go in stopping progression and reversing or restoring vision. There are huge opportunities from a vision restoration perspective, not only for AMD, but across a broad swath of diseases, from glaucoma to other optic nerve disorders.

Even for diseases that we have cures for, or at least good treatments for, like diabetic retinopathy, we have to identify the disease first. There’s also a failure in our system of adequate screening of patients. It is exciting that because of AI, we have approval in the US of three different software platforms or tools for doing diabetic retinopathy screening automatically from the fundus images. Maybe that'll improve the rate of screenings so we can avoid vision loss.

But, there are many unmet areas. Largely they are regenerative diseases for which we don't have ways of reversing them. There’s no shortage of work by any means. We have challenges dealing with these diseases that we don't have effective treatments for, but another challenge is getting adequate research support. You need adequate financial support to support vision science research because that's a key issue.

Unless we get this type of support, we're unable to make these kinds of breakthroughs. We need to expand that and I don't mean to say we have no support. It’s just that the investment needs to grow and we need to recognize the aging population. As the population ages, diseases will continue to increase and we need to be able to tackle this.

HCPLive: The word that came to mind is advocacy. How big of a role do advocates, and organizations like ARVO, play in bringing more attention to global vision issues?

It’s a very relevant and topical issue and point because ARVO went through a strategic planning process at the end of last year's meeting, to develop our plan for the next five years. One of the four major pillars was increasing ARVO as a forward-facing institution concerning advocacy and advocating for vision science research. We’re bringing together vision scientists worldwide, and we need to be able to advocate to ensure we get adequate vision science research, support, and resources to support these scientists going forward.

HCPLive: What are the other pillars of ARVO’s five-year plan?

In terms of our strategic plan and other pillars aside from advocacy, another important component is international outreach. We’re 40% international in terms of our membership, but we're a global organization. We already have travel grants to support international scientists coming to the meeting, but we're looking to expand on those programs to increase international representation and participation.

These kinds of global research collaborations are important, so that's a facet of what we do. Another component is continually improving equity, diversity, and inclusivity, especially in our governance and leadership. We’re an elected board. All of us, including myself, ran for office, and the membership elected us, but people can't be elected unless they run. We explicitly want to encourage people to run for the board.

We also want to continue to develop programs to support our members and training because that's the organizations’s lifeblood. That’s the future of the organization. We need to encourage and get more people into vision science. We do some outreach programs where we work with high school students and provide them with an experience where they can come to the meeting and see how vision science happens or how the program operates.

Those kinds of activities are things we’re looking to expand upon as we try to promote vision science, by also trying to promote the next generation.

HCPLive: As ARVO 2024 has come to a close, and the countdown begins for next year’s meeting, what do you anticipate for the rest of the year in eye care?

The theme for next year’s meeting, which I announced during the closing keynote session, is ‘imagining innovation and intelligence in vision science’ or ‘i3’, as we’re calling it.

It’s going to be a big part of this year, and it’s already been a part of ophthalmology and medical care, in general, in this explosion of AI. I imagine we’ll see several new insights for various diseases enabled by AI. Precision medicine technologies allow us to probe the details of the cells in the eye down to the molecular level, even beyond the cellular level. We have tools like that, and over the next year, we’re going to take advantage of those insights.

One of the great advantages of AI-based tools is that they’re able to cope with huge amounts of data. Being able to integrate data across many different models or domains is another important aspect of health vision science research progress in this coming year. I’m very much looking forward to bringing scientists together next ARVO in Salt Lake City and discussing these things.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.