Stanford Center for Optic Disc Drusen hosts its first in-person symposium

Pictured (L to R): Joyce Liao, MD, PhD, Lea Lykkebirk, MD, Steffen Hamann, MD, PhD, Heather Moss, MD, PhD.

JOYCE LIAO, MD, PhD, professor of ophthalmology and neurology, is devoted to treating patients with optic disc drusen (ODD), a condition that affects the optic nerve and vision. While it is a disease almost as prevalent as glaucoma, there is still much unknown about the disease and how to prevent or treat resulting vision loss.

In ODD, calcium-containing deposits at the optic nerve head are associated with damaged optic nerve axons. Affecting 2% of the general population, ODD can lead to both progressive or sudden irreversible vision loss.

With no current cure for ODD, Liao knew that more needed to be done, and in 2019 that need was met when a visionary donor provided a significant gift to establish the Stanford Center for Optic Disc Drusen at the Byers Eye Institute.

With a goal of uniting ODD researchers from around the world in this quest, Liao, with her faculty and staff collaborators from Stanford and other institutions, held two first-of-their-kind ODD conferences virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The conferences have provided new opportunities for clinicians and scientists to share their laboratory and clinical findings, discover breakthroughs in translational research, and also educate the public about the state of ODD research. This year, the international conference was finally able to allow in-person attendance, though it was still held in a hybrid format. 

Sangeetha Pugazhendhi, MD, with her award-winning poster.

“Traditionally, researchers wait to release their findings until they have something published, but the conference serves as a means for the Center to get these ODD discoveries out in order to raise awareness for this important condition,” Liao said. “It has been very gratifying to hear patients say how excited they are to learn that such intense research efforts are ongoing.”

A series of major findings have now been released in this format. One significant advance arising from ODD Center research was that patient skin fibroblasts show evidence of mitochondrial dysfunction, opening a new research direction which could lead to diagnostic and therapeutic discoveries. In a second set of experiments, ODD Center researchers discovered that they could use cells from patients to reproduce ODD-like calcification in a dish. “Having the right amount of calcium, not too little and not too much, could be an important indicator for ODD treatment,” Liao said. “We are looking forward to discovering further advancements in this area, and we hope to start new clinical trials based on these steps forward.”

Attendees participate in discussions during presentations at the ODD symposium.

This was also the first year that an in-person poster session was held, with 32 scientific presentations. The top four posters were awarded a prize: Sangeethabalasri Pugazhendhi, MD; Karanvir Kaushal, PhD; Barbara Rangel da Silva, PhD, from Stanford, and Lea Lykkebirk, MD, an ophthalmologist at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

“I am grateful for the entire team who has made this conference possible for three years in a row,” Liao said. “It is encouraging to see we are working together for one sole purpose—to help patients—and the collaboration and progress the Center has brought forward is what excites me most about our next steps.”

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Kathryn Sill is the former web and communications specialist for the Byers Eye Institute at Stanford.