“The objectives of this conference are knowledge exchange and active communication.” – Interview with the Congress President

The motto of the DOG 2015 is “Ophthalmology – interdisciplinary and based in fundamental research”.
Congress President Professor Karl Ulrich Bartz-Schmidt explains why he has chosen this motto, what is new and what the participants can look forward to. Interview with the Congress President Professor Karl Ulrich Bartz-Schmidt.

Q: Professor Bartz-Schmidt, you chose the conference motto “Ophthalmology – basic research and cross-disciplinary cooperation”. Why this motto?

“Ophthalmology – basic research and cross-disciplinary cooperation” reflects the changes academic ophthalmology has been subject to over the past few years. In addition to clinical and academic professorships, more and more universities are establishing ophthalmological chairs without the obligation to provide medical care and on par with clinical professorships. Fortunately, this development has made ophthalmology more visible on the map of national and European funding organizations. The time has now come for these dynamic, groups focused on basic research to find their place in our association. Innovation requires research. Since modern experimental methods are the result of interdisciplinary developments and many eye diseases require cross-disciplinary treatment approaches, we need to seek out exchange with other disciplines. The objectives of this conference are knowledge exchange and active communication. They allow us to learn from one another, sharpen our skills and develop our expertise.

Q: Many medical disciplines are currently discussing the need for stronger medical care research. Why are you focusing on fundamental research?

I want the 2015 conference to form a counterpoint to the ubiquitous discussions on how to finance the health system for our aging society. Acronyms like AWMF, BfARM, BQS, B&F, CMI, GBA, DRG, GCP, GLP, ICD, IGEL, IQWIK, KTQ, MDK, OPS, pU, QM, RKI and others represent the instruments that have been used to define the German health system for the past 15 years. The prime objectives of the transparency created with these instruments was to protect care costs from serving particular interests and to provide patients with the insights they need to navigate this environment and make informed decisions. If we want to shape the future of ophthalmology as a discipline, we will need scientific monitoring in centers for healthcare research. The course for this was set by the DOG Board in cooperation with the professional association during their conclave in January 2015. This year the two organizations will jointly fund a research professorship that will serve as a nucleus for the development of a future center for healthcare research. The DOG has committed to creating the necessary basis this year. In this respect, ophthalmology was able to learn from other disciplines. Medical care research will be part of our future, and I am sure that one day soon it will also be the focus of our annual conference.

Q: This year’s conference features the new format “Focus on Research”, which specifically addresses young ophthalmologists. What will this format offer them? What is the takeaway?

The new program format “Focus on Research” offers clinical scientists – the term the DFG gives to young ophthalmologists in clinic and science who are interested in fundamental research – a platform for discussing specific, clearly defined research topics and questions. Groups of young clinical scientists with a specific focus have the chance to invite an experienced specialist to give a presentation and discuss the contributions of his or her young colleagues. In addition to providing more in-depth insights and perspectives, these sessions serve as wonderful opportunities to network and establish long-term contacts between researchers and research groups. This year we will have three symposia, focusing on cell-based therapeutic approaches to retinal diseases (Thursday), cellular regeneration of the ocular surface (Friday), and inflammatory diseases of the ocular surface (Saturday).

Q: What are the scientific highlights that await participants?

The beginning of gene therapy in ophthalmology is one key topic this year. Experimental methods have now been developed to the point where we will soon be able to test them on human patients in Germany. Robert MacLaren will share his experiences in treating patients with chorioideremia. This innovative technology not only gives us new ammunition against monogenetic retinal diseases, but will also be used in the treatment of diseases of the endothelial cells as we will learn in the session “Endothelial Cell Transplantation and Regeneration: State of the Art and Future Prospects”. Another focus this year will be the latest procedures in imaging techniques. Numerous symposia, talks, and poster sessions will be dedicated to en-face OCT, OCT angiography and the use of adaptive optics. This strong focus will certainly help us assess the significance of these new diagnostic methods for the future of our discipline.

Q: What topics do you believe to be particularly relevant for the practice of ophthalmology?

Ophthalmology is a very broad discipline. Each ophthalmologist needs different insights in his or her daily practice. Our program as a whole, with all the workshops, symposia, talks and poster sessions, is a good reflection of the topics that are currently relevant. A special highlight is our DOG update introduced in 2013. The update offers clinical ophthalmologists the latest developments in their discipline on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. Participants will be able to update their knowledge and reconnect with the state of the art in their discipline in a compact, efficient session. Hand-picked experts will present the key international publications of the past twelve to fifteen months in lively sessions with interactive elements. Their presentations will include an assessment and practical evaluation of the latest research results. Participants benefit from the comprehensive knowledge update and specific, applicable tips for clinical diagnosis and therapy. These sessions are not only a wonderful chance for participants to brush up their knowledge; they also serve as a perfect exam preparation for our young colleagues still in training programs. The ten program topics are aligned with the sub-specialties of ophthalmology. The sessions consist of a total of ten 45-minute-units on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. The sessions, including handouts, are free for registered conference participants – there is no extra charge and no separate registration is required.

Will you share a personal tip for conference participants?

If I could, I would join all the sessions – from my point of view the whole program is extremely exciting. Naturally, I will make sure to hear our keynote speakers. The sessions in our program “DOG Controversial” also have special appeal for me. Last but not least, I would like to draw attention to our more exotic sessions, as they promise to be very inspiring. My favorite on Thursday is the symposium “Do Animals See Better than Humans?”, on Friday, it’s the symposium on “Achromatopsy”; and on Saturday, the symposium “Adaptation, Perceptual Learning and Plasticity of the Brain”.