Training the Next Generation

On a mission to find and support talented clinician-scientists

Unique training and mentorship opportunities and an active wet lab program (pictured) help set the Byers Eye Institute apart for students and budding ophthalmologists.


WHEN ADEETI AGGARWAL, MD, PhD, surveyed her residency options after medical school, the Byers Eye Institute stood out because it offered something that other
residency programs didn’t: a chance to SOAR.

That is, the Byers Eye Institute offered the Stanford
Ophthalmology Advanced Research Residency (SOAR) program, which helps aspiring and rising physician-
scientists find protected time for research early in their careers. The program provides what Aggarwal calls “the best program in the country for preparing physician-
scientists interested in vision science research.”

SOAR is just one of the ways the Byers Eye Institute is a leader in training the next generation of clinicians and scientists. The Institute also is home to an outsized number of early-career research grants and programs to attract promising young ophthalmologists from around the world and pair them with the mentorship they need to scale their careers to their full potential.

“This program really sets us up to become physician-
scientists,” she said. “Being part of SOAR is a really unique and amazing opportunity.”

Through the program, the Byers Eye Institute sponsors a pre-residency research year for motivated and interested residents, timed between an initial intern year and three years of clinical ophthalmology training.

“During that year, residents are meant to get their clinician-scientist career off the ground, and continue pushing their work forward throughout the rest of their ophthalmology training,” says Carolyn Pan, MD, director of the ophthalmology residency program.

They’ll set up a laboratory, apply for grants, hire researchers, and otherwise lay the path for discovery on their topic of choice with one or more faculty mentors.

“This way, your research career doesn’t have to take a four- to six-year pause while you’re doing clinical training,” Pan said.

That’s exactly what the program is meant to do, says Yang Sun, MD, PhD, professor of ophthalmology and vice chair for academic affairs. Sun helps direct and provide broad career mentorship for the SOAR program after it was established by Jeffrey Goldberg, MD, PhD, Blumenkranz Smead professor and chair of ophthalmology at the Byers Eye Institute.

“This program is aimed at filling a gap,” Sun said. “SOAR streamlines a career for promising physicians who want to do groundbreaking research.”

That’s what Lucie Guo, MD, PhD, took advantage of through the SOAR program. She is now a vitreoretinal fellow at the Byers Eye Institute, well on her way to her goal of becoming a physician-scientist.

“The year of dedicated research time was very helpful in getting ambitious projects off the ground, which otherwise wouldn’t have been possible during our busy clinical training,” Guo said.  


The award goes to...

Developing a career as an academic ophthalmologist continues during fellowship and as junior faculty. 
Multiple researchers at the Byers Eye Institute hold prestigious early career research grants, also known as K awards, from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

K awards can help put researchers on track for future awards, providing key experience, time, and funding as they make their first big breakthroughs.

Bryce Chiang, MD, PhD, a Byers Eye Institute instructor and researcher who is currently a glaucoma fellow, received a five-year K award in 2022. He’ll develop a targeted way to deliver medication to the optic nerve, the critical nerve in the back of the eye responsible for sending visual information to the brain.

“The optic nerve degenerates in glaucoma and other optic neuropathies—diseases that cause nerve damage—but there’s no good way to deliver focused therapies there,” Chiang said.

Assistant Professor Wendy Liu, MD, PhD is using her 2023 grant to dive into the role of pressure sensors in the eye that may be involved in glaucoma using human genetics and animal models. “That’s complex work that would be hard to get off the ground without mentorship and funding,” Liu said.

“Everyone  is generous with their time, which has greatly advanced my work in new directions,” Liu added. “The K award is instrumental in allowing me protected research time to pursue new research directions with the potential for clinical translation.”

Marcia is a freelance writer for the Byers Eye Institute at Stanford.