Meet a Specialist: Demetrios G. Vavvas, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Vavvas Demetrios headshotAddressing an Area of Unmet Need

As an ophthalmologist, Dr. Demetrios G. Vavvas has always wanted to help as many people as possible. That’s why he chose to specialize in retinal disorders—a leading cause of blindness worldwide.

“The retina is arguably the most important part of the eye,” he explains. Located in the back part of the eye, the retina converts light into electrical impulses. It processes this information and sends it to the brain, where it’s transformed into what we perceive as images.

At Mass. Eye and Ear, Dr. Vavvas treats all types of retinal conditions, but he is especially interested in age-related macular degeneration (AMD), inherited retinal degenerations, and diabetic retinopathy. AMD is a progressive disease that affects more than 150 million patients globally and is a leading cause of blindness in people over age 50, while diabetic retinopathy is the major cause of vision loss among working adults in the United States.

“These conditions are becoming increasingly common—especially in developed countries—as people live longer,” Dr. Vavvas explains.

Passionately Committed to Preserving and Restoring Vision

“Vision is something most of us take for granted, but it dramatically affects our quality of life,” says Dr. Demetrios Vavvas, who speaks from experience. Both his father and aunt were born with cataracts and nearly blind for much of their adult lives. In fact, witnessing the effects of their vision loss inspired Dr. Vavvas to pursue a career in ophthalmology.

Soon after Dr. Vavvas’ completed ophthalmology training at Harvard Ophthalmology and Mass. Eye and Ear, his father underwent cataract surgery. The results were life-changing. “After my father’s cataract surgery, we toured our home country of Greece. It was as if he was seeing everything for the first time,” Dr. Vavvas recalls.

The experience solidified his career choice and commitment to helping those with potentially blinding conditions. “I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” he says.

Research Aims to Improve Treatment

Over the years, researchers have made great progress in the treatment of retinal disorders, including AMD. Dr. Vavvas hopes his research will continue to advance patient care and ultimately help eradicate blinding retinal diseases.

He is particularly interested in discovering what causes retinal cell death in AMD. This area of research, called neuroprotection, is aimed at slowing or stopping cell death to prevent vision loss.

Dr. Vavvas is also studying the potential link between the mechanisms of the more prevalent dry form of AMD and atherosclerosis—the buildup of cholesterol in the arteries. In dry AMD, doctors often see soft deposits of lipids, or fatty components, in the outer retina. This is similar to the build-up of lipids in the inner walls of blood vessels seen in atherosclerosis. Dr. Vavvas is testing the effects of statins, or cholesterol-lowering drugs, on certain cases of dry AMD. So far, the results have been very promising.

Educating Future Leaders in Ophthalmology

In addition to seeing patients and conducting research, Dr. Vavvas is also a Harvard Ophthalmology faculty member. A generous mentor to medical students, residents, and fellows, Dr. Vavvas enjoys interacting with future ophthalmologists.

“Teaching is not only an opportunity to share knowledge, but also to learn from our exceptionally bright and inspiring trainees. They often see things from new perspectives and ask compelling questions that spark important dialogue. And of course, preparing for courses requires you to reflect and think deeply about diseases and processes,” he says.

Learn more about Dr. Vavvas

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