Press Releases 2013
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Boston (Nov. 20, 2012)--Joan Whitten Miller, M.D., Henry Willard Williams Professor of Ophthalmology and Chair of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, and Chief of Ophthalmology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and Massachusetts General Hospital, delivered the LXIX (69th) Jackson Memorial Lecture at the 2012 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Dr. Miller was only the second woman to deliver this prestigious lecture since its inauguration in 1944. She delivered this year’s lecture on November 11 at McCormick Place in Chicago, and the associated paper will be published in a forthcoming issue of American Journal of Ophthalmology.
The Jackson Memorial Lecture honors the legacy of Dr. Edward Jackson (1856–1942), a prominent ophthalmologist whose contributions include popularizing the use of the retinoscope and developing techniques for examining the eye. Dr. Jackson was dedicated to the education and training of ophthalmologists; he helped create the American Board of Ophthalmology, as well as its first board examination. “It is fitting to honor Dr. Jackson with an annual lecture at the American Academy of Ophthalmology,” says Dr. Miller. “It is a privilege to add my name to the list of Jackson lecturers.”
In her presentation titled “Age-Related Macular Degeneration Revisited: Piecing the Puzzle,” Dr. Miller discussed how the understanding of age-related macular generation (AMD) has evolved over recent decades. In AMD, subretinal deposits of lipids and proteins trigger inflammation and cellular stress, leading to retinal dysfunction. In the advanced neovascular or “wet” form of the disease, the choroidal blood vessels under the retina grow abnormally, destroying the retinal photoreceptors that are critical for vision. According to the World Health Organization, AMD is the leading cause of blindness in industrialized nations and the 3rd leading cause of blindness worldwide.
In 2000, Dr. Miller and colleagues introduced Visudyne®, which targets the abnormal choroidal blood vessels in neovascular AMD. Visudyne® was the first medicinal treatment for AMD, and revolutionized the therapeutic strategies for this blinding disorder. Dr. Miller also helped identify vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) as the primary molecule responsible for the abnormal choroidal vessel growth in neovascular AMD. This discovery led to the anti-VEGF class of drugs, which are currently first-line treatments for neovascular AMD.
"Dr. Miller has pushed the frontiers of understanding to improve the lives of patients," said Jeffrey S. Flier, M.D., Dean of Harvard Medical School. "I am pleased that the American Academy of Ophthalmology has recognized Dr. Miller's leadership in translational research, which is central to the mission of Harvard Medical School."
Dr. Miller’s achievements have also been commended by the leadership at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, the primary teaching affiliate of the Harvard Medical School Department of Ophthalmology. “This honor is a testament to Dr. Miller's ongoing and groundbreaking contributions to the advancement of treatments for potentially blinding retinal diseases and to the field of ophthalmology as a whole,” said Wyc Grousbeck, Chairman of the Board. “We're grateful for her outstanding and innovative leadership of the Department of Ophthalmology at Mass. Eye and Ear."
Dr. Miller and her colleagues continue to study the mechanisms of vision loss and develop improved therapies for AMD. “Using a combination of genetic and functional studies, we will have a better understanding of how AMD develops,” says Dr. Miller. “This will allow us to design more elegant treatments and achieve success in prevention and early intervention.”
Dr. Miller has published more than 130 peer-reviewed papers, 50 book chapters and review articles, is co-editor of the third edition of Albert and Jakobiec’s Principles and Practice of Ophthalmology, and is a named inventor on nine U.S. patents and five Canadian patents. She has received numerous awards, including the Rosenthal Award and Donald J. Gass Medal of the Macula Society, the Retina Research Award from the Club Jules Gonin, the Alcon Research Institute Award, the ARVO/Pfizer Ophthalmic Translational Research Award, the Founder’s Award from the American Society of Retinal Specialists, the Suzanne Veronneau-Troutman Award from Women in Ophthalmology, the Paul Henkind Memorial Award from the Macula Society, the Senior Achievement Award from the American Academy of Ophthalmology, and the Certificate of Honour from the European Association for Vision and Eye Research.
Dr. Miller was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and is a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Medical School. She completed her ophthalmology residency and a vitreo-retinal fellowship at Massachusetts Eye and Ear. In addition to her professorship and leadership roles at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts Eye and Ear, Dr. Miller is the director of the Angiogenesis Laboratory and a vitreo-retinal physician in the Retina Service at Massachusetts Eye and Ear. Dr. Miller is the first female physician promoted to the rank of Professor of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, and the first woman to serve as chair of the Department of Ophthalmology.
Dr. Miller and her husband John live in Winchester, MA. John, a construction attorney, specializes in domestic and international engineering procurement and public-private partnerships in global infrastructure. Their son John, the eldest of three children, is currently an ophthalmology resident at Harvard Medical School. Their son Douglas is a 2010 graduate of Harvard College, where he was co-captain of his college basketball team; he now works in construction management for Schernecker Property Services. Daughter Mary graduated from Harvard College in 2011, and is working as a paralegal for the law firm Harkins Cunningham LLP in Philadelphia.