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ARVO 2024 Halfway Heat Check: Q+A with Dr. Sahil Thakur on the ARVO Experience

We’ve hit the halfway mark of ophthalmic action at ARVO 2024 in Seattle. Travel Grant awardee and ARVO first-timer Dr. Sahil Thakur of the Singapore Eye Research Institute ISERI) talked about his experience so far—and what makes this conference stand alone in world vision science.

It’s curtains for Day Three at the Seattle Convention Center Arch building at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO 2024). 

Today saw another rousing slate of symposia, paper sessions and posters on the future direction of vision science and eye care. But as the (un)official halfway point for the Meeting, it was also time to reflect on the meaning and magnitude of it all—and to get a fresh perspective on this, we spoke to researcher and ARVO newbie Dr. Sahil Thakur.

Dr. Thakur received a travel grant to present his research on glaucoma patients and their awareness of the disease during the Meeting, and gave his thoughts on the ARVO vibe, what makes the conference different, and his experiences as a presenter and a delegate in his inaugural visit.

Q: So what do you make of all of this as a researcher?

A:  I think because I come from a very unique perspective in that I trained in India first and then went to Singapore to do research. So I have a lot of experience at both conferences that are tuned for ophthalmologists and a conference here that’s vision science related.

The perspective here is actually very different. The talks are very different. The science is more important at ARVO, unlike some other ophthalmology conferences. A lot of the work is pre-translational  and pre-consumer in a way as well. 

So the work is more groundbreaking, more on the edge, more creative. It’s full of new ideas. Sometimes it’s like the wild, wild west. It’s a unique feeling.

Q: Tell us more about that unique feeling.

One thing you notice about ARVO immediately is that it’s about networking, it’s about collaboration and building networks for research, getting your research in front of the right eyes, and finding people you can synergize with. In other ophthalmology conferences it’s more about, ‘okay, I found this new technique or innovation and you should try it, too’.

The atmosphere here is also more laid back in a way, because this is the only time researchers come out of their labs. And I think Seattle as a city itself has a very laid-back kind of vibe that matches this.

Q: What about the sessions here? Tell us about some of your highlights.

The award lectures I felt, have been really amazing. Everyone that we used to read about in books is physically here, and it’s special to listen to them. These great people distill down their experience into that 45-minute talk and you just can learn so much from it—and sometimes make decisions in your own career based upon how they made their decisions.

Like everyone else at ARVO, I’m also making sure to find the research being done by potential collaborators and by some of the best institutions in the world in my field. I’ve been to a lot of AI-related things, and it’s been interesting to see how researchers are using anterior segment and retinal imaging techniques for systemic disease diagnosis.1

There are so many papers on Alzheimer’s, a lot of papers on cardiovascular disease and on the detection of chronic kidney disease. I think this is the way forward—the eye is truly the window to the soul and a lot of people are realizing it now.

The second aspect I’m seeing a lot of is research being done in diseases that have no cure, like geographic atrophy. I’ve also seen exciting research on corneal regeneration and novel biomarkers for detecting blinding diseases in early and earlier stages.

Q: With all this cutting-edge research, what is one of the most memorable or unique things you’ve seen at ARVO?

There are visionary people here and that’s the kind of science I want to see.You see some amazing science and some crazy stuff. For example, I saw, for the first time, OCT machines especially for rats, rabbits and monkeys. Unless you see a machine like that, you don’t have your horizons wide open, right?

Q: So, to conclude here—you’re a researcher from overseas and a travel grant awardee from the Asia-Pacific region. What would you say to our international audience?

I think one of the things that ARVO does amazingly well is they have a lot of travel grants. I’m here for the first time, and I got a travel grant, which is incredible. If you have good science to present, ARVO appreciates that. I think they have about 200 travel grants, which is a lot. This is not very common in Asian conferences. There you might see a maximum of ten grants. 

ARVO also has a lot of international chapters that people don’t know about, so you can always get in with your regional chapter, and that can be very helpful. They have so many regional chapters across Asia and Latin America and Africa, and I think that’s an important aspect that a lot of people don’t know. 

And lastly, ARVO has its own journals and the conference gives you a very good opportunity to interact with the people who are going to review your work. They can give you very good ideas about what’s required in an article, how it will be peer reviewed, and how the whole publication process works. This was massive for me because sometimes, especially in countries like ours, there is this huge barrier to getting published.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Thakur presented his research on the opening day of the conference. You can find out more about his work here. The Annual Meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO 2024) is being held from 5-9 May in Seattle, Washington, USA. Reporting for this story took place during the event.

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