Stanford Medicine magazine reports on the future of vision

The magazine’s summer issue highlights new strategies to protect and restore sight. It also includes an essay by bestselling author Joyce Maynard on life during her husband’s battle with cancer.

- By Rosanne Spector

Illustration by John Hersey

Many of the strategies being explored at the Stanford University School of Medicine to protect, improve and restore vision sound seriously sci-fi. Among them: cornea transplants conducted with magnetic fields instead of scalpels, virtual reality workouts to repair damaged retinas, and bionic vision.

The new issue of Stanford Medicine magazine, a theme issue on eyes and vision, includes details about these projects and others pushing the boundaries of biology and technology to help people see.

“Studies show that when it comes to their health, the thing people most worry about, after death, is losing their vision,” said Jeffrey Goldberg, MD, professor and chair of ophthalmology, in the report’s lead article. “People’s productivity and their activities of daily life hinge critically on vision, more than on any other sense.”

The lead article explains the basic workings of the eye and describes an array of ophthalmological research, including Goldberg’s work to repair damaged corneas by injecting healthy cells into the eye and using magnets to pull the cells into position. A patient in a small early study entered the trial legally blind, with 20/200 vision, and left it with 20/40 vision — close to normal. A larger study is planned to begin soon.

“The fear of vision loss, even for people in lesser stages of disease, can be quite dramatic. So anything we can do to stabilize, better diagnose and hopefully one day restore vision in some of these diseases, I think, will have an enormous global impact,” Goldberg said. This type of work is an example of Stanford Medicine’s focus on precision health, the goal of which is to anticipate and prevent disease in the healthy and precisely diagnose and treat disease in the ill.

Also in the theme package on vision, which was produced in collaboration with Stanford’s Byers Eye Institute:

  • A story about using adaptive optics technology, originally used to track spy satellites, to see inside the eye. 
  • A feature on progress toward bionic vision — using video glasses and a tiny implant to restore sight.
  • A report on using terrifying virtual reality experiences, such as being attacked by sharks, to understand the neuroscience of fear. A video on the subject accompanies the online version of the story.
  • An article explaining how neuroscientist Carla Shatz’s studies of vision revolutionized the understanding of brain development and continue to uncover surprises, such as interactions between brain cells and the immune system.
  • A piece on a mountain-climbing doctor who co-founded the Himalayan Cataract Project, which has performed more than 600,000 cataract surgeries in the developing world.
  • A story about removing a tumor from a teen’s eye, which not only restored her vision but changed her life.

The issue also includes an article about Stanford Medicine’s inaugural issue of Health Trends Report, an annual review and analysis of the health care sector. Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine, explains in the article: “In publishing this report, we hope to show how big data is the most important trend facing the sector and, in the process, inform and educate the entire medical community — including patients, doctors, the private and public sectors — who are actively shaping the future of health care.”

Additional stories include a feature on the use of the anesthetic drug ketamine to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder, and an essay by bestselling author Joyce Maynard about living through a loved one’s painful death from pancreatic cancer. Audio of a conversation between Maynard and the magazine’s executive editor, Paul Costello, is available online.

The magazine is available online. Print copies are being sent to subscribers. Others can request a copy at (650) 723-6911 or by sending an email to

About Stanford Medicine

Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit

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