SOAR Residency Program lays foundation
for independent research careers

Suzann Pershing, MD, serves as the director of Stanford’s ophthalmology residency program, and is implementing the new SOAR curriculum.

The Department of Ophthalmology at Stanford prides itself on training undergraduates, medical students, residents, and clinical fellows in both clinical care and innovative research. While all residents participate in basic science or clinical research during residency, the newly established Stanford Ophthalmology Advanced Research (SOAR) Residency Program allows residents who want to accelerate their academic research program to dedicate an extra year to full-time basic science or translational research. Typically, this year takes place after the internship year and prior to beginning the rest of the three-year ophthalmology residency, and the research continues using elective time during the next three years. Through SOAR, the department sponsors the resident’s career growth with funding, mentorship, and other resources according to each trainee’s research needs, both during the research year and the following three clinical training years.

“Mentorship is critical, and SOAR residents develop their own research program under the guidance of one or more faculty mentors,” Jeffrey Goldberg, MD, PhD, professor and chair of ophthalmology said. “The purpose of the SOAR Residency Program is to help residents transition to independence as clinician-scientists, to carry their research into the future as faculty members, and to position themselves as strong applicants for NIH and other independent funding.”

Luciano Custo Greig, MD, PhD, (left) collaborates with Sui Wang, PhD, on research to discover new sources of stem cells hiding in the human retina.

Through the eyes of a SOAR resident

Luciano Custo Greig, MD, PhD, is a current trainee in the SOAR Residency Program. He graduated from Harvard Medical School with a PhD in genetics in 2015 and earned his MD, magna cum laude, in 2017. After completing his internship year, Greig has begun collaborating with Sui Wang, PhD, assistant professor of ophthalmology, and Goldberg to develop new strategies for replacement of retinal ganglion cells that will help patients with glaucoma and other degenerative eye diseases.

Retinal ganglion cells are the neurons that send visual information to the brain through the optic nerve, and degenerate in glaucoma. These same neurons are also compromised in developmental disorders such as optic nerve hypoplasia and are injured in traumatic or ischemic optic neuropathy. Greig aims to use precursor cells present in the adult eye to generate new retinal ganglion cells and replace those that have died from disease. His studies draw on expertise developed during his PhD, which focused on how different types of neurons in the cerebral cortex are generated during development.

Greig has also had the opportunity to interact with and be mentored by other ophthalmology faculty members such as Vinit Mahajan, MD, PhD, associate professor of ophthalmology.

“Dr. Greig is a superstar already, and the opportunity to mentor rising stars like him is one of the reasons I joined the faculty at Stanford,” Mahajan said.

Lucie Guo, MD, PhD, finished her thesis research on epigenetics before matching to the SOAR Program.

“It is really fantastic to be in a department where there are many physician-scientists, who are not only excellent role models, but are also generous with their time and excited to help trainees navigate this career path,” Greig said.

Like Greig, next year’s SOAR resident Lucie Guo, MD, PhD, also plans to pursue an academic career as a physician-scientist. Guo graduated from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in 2018, earning her MD with Alpha Omega Alpha honors and a PhD in biochemistry and molecular biophysics. She is currently completing her internship year at the nearby Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.

During her PhD, Guo made advances in the epigenetic mechanisms of centromere inheritance, using tools in biophysics, quantitative cell biology, and gene editing. She plans to apply her basic science skillset to ophthalmology.

“There are new, powerful tools for probing and altering the human genome and epigenome,” Guo said, “and the eye is a uniquely ideal space for developing innovative therapies.”

“The purpose of the SOAR Residency Program is to help residents transition to independence as clinician-scientists, to carry their research into the future as faculty, and to position themselves as strong applicants for NIH and other independent funding.

“I am excited to join the SOAR Residency Program to build a research foundation to maintain during my clinical training,” Guo said. “It’s great to be part of a department that invests in our scientific productivity and growth during residency, while still delivering unbelievably strong clinical and surgical training.”

Greig said that training programs tailored to physician-scientists with dedicated time for research are common in other specialties but are rare in ophthalmology, which is what drove his decision to come to Stanford.

“Most universities don’t offer the unique opportunity that Stanford does,” Greig said. “When I started the residency application process, I was worried that I would have to give up science for the next four or more years of clinical training, but as a SOAR resident I can do both. The strong integration of research into the residency program here is rare, and ultimately the goal is to lay a strong foundation for independent research projects that I can carry through into my future career as a physician-scientist.”


Kathryn Sill is a web and communications specialist for the Byers Eye Institute in the Department of Ophthalmology, at Stanford University School of Medicine. Email her at