Professor of Ophthalmology Joan W. Miller, an internationally recognized expert in the field of macular degeneration, was recently named chief of ophthalmology at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (MEEI) and chair of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School (HMS).
Currently the director of the infirmary’s angiogenesis laboratory and a full-time physician in the retina service at the infirmary, Miller was the first woman president of the medical staff of MEEI, and is the first woman to be named chief and chairman of ophthalmology at MEEI and HMS.
“Dr. Miller is an extraordinary researcher, clinician, and teacher, with strong plans for the future” said MEEI President F. Curtis Smith. “She has been an incredible asset to our organization, and I look forward to working with her in her new role.”
“I am very excited to embark on this stage of my career,” Miller said. “I’ve enjoyed research and clinical work, and now I have a chance to grow and develop a faculty and have a major impact on the field. I’d like to make this the best department in the world.”
Miller earned her bachelor of science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her medical degree from Harvard Medical School. As a researcher, she has pioneered the development of photodynamic therapy (a combination of drugs and laser treatment) for neovascular macular degeneration.
She and her colleagues were also among the first to demonstrate the importance of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in the development of ocular neovascularization and the potential use of anti-angiogenic drugs (drugs that inhibit blood vessel growth) in targeting VEGF. She said that these drugs are now in Phase III trials and that the results will be announced in several weeks.
Miller said she chose ophthalmology as a specialty because it offered “a nice combination of medical and surgical treatments.”
It is also a field that provides many opportunities for cross-disciplinary collaboration. The retina, the area at the back of the eye that receives images, is really a piece of brain tissue, she explained, and has been used as a model for all sorts of neurological studies. Her own work in the use of anti-angiogenic drugs to treat VEGF builds upon work by cancer researcher Judah Folkman.
“Research is best done in a collaborative atmosphere,” Miller said. “The exchange of knowledge helps to expand research efforts and improve the development of treatments.”