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Virginie Verhoeven awarded at the IMC 2019

The 2019 Josh Wallman Memorial Lecture &  ZEISS Young Investigator Award for Myopia Research goes to Dr. Virginie Verhoeven (MD PhD) from the Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Dr. Verhoven will give a lecture at the IMC 2019 on the topic: "A decade of human myopia genetics research: big data, big questions"

The awardee was selected by an awards committee, who reviewed nominations meeting the following requirements - an active junior myopia researcher, who had completed within the last 10 years, their PhD or equivalent research degree, or myopia research training (for non-related PhD research).

Dr Virginie Verhoeven obtained her MD degree in general medicine, Utrecht University in 2008, an MSc degree in genetic epidemiology, from the Netherlands Institute for Health Sciences (NIHES), Rotterdam in 2012, and a PhD degree from Erasmus University Rotterdam (Erasmus Medical Center) in 2015 under the guidance of Professors Klaver and Vingerling. The title of her PhD dissertation was “What causes myopia? Complex genetics and epidemiology of a common condition.” Dr Verhoeven’s publications are impressive, including three co-authored papers in Nature Genetics, her awards include a Ludwig von Sallmann clinician-scientist award and in 2016, she received a prestigious grant from the Dutch government on the topic of genetics of high myopia, enabling her to start her own research group. She is described by one of her past mentors as a dedicated researcher and passionate clinician. She is a member of the international myopia genetics consortium CREAM and is also currently pursuing a residency in Clinical Genetics.

The knowledge on the genetic background of refractive error and myopia has expanded dramatically in the past few years. To date, almost 200 genetic loci have been identified for refractive error and myopia, and risk variants mostly carry low risk but are highly prevalent in the general population. Several genes for secondary syndromic myopia overlap with those for common myopia. Polygenic risk scores show overrepresentation of high myopia in the higher deciles of risk. Annotated genes have a wide variety of functions, and all retinal layers appear to be sites of expression. The current genetic findings offer a world of new molecules involved in myopiagenesis. As the missing heritability is still large, further genetic advances including large-scale, in-depth genetic studies using complementary big data analytics, consideration of gene-environment effects by thorough measurement of environmental exposures, and focus on subgroups with extreme phenotypes and high familial occurrence are needed. Functional characterization of associated variants is simultaneously needed to bridge the knowledge gap between sequence variance and consequence for eye growth

Dr Verhoeven joins the growing list of past recipients and highly successful junior myopia researchers – Dr Regan Ashby Australia (2013), Dr Scott Read Australia (2015), and Dr Sandra Benavente-Perez, USA (2017).

The Josh Wallman Memorial Lecture acknowledges both the contribution of Professor Josh Wallman to myopia research and his support for junior researchers. As a long-term senior faculty member of City University of New York, Josh Wallman pioneered the use of the avian model for understanding eye growth and made invaluable contributions to vision research and the field of myopia. There are likely no myopia researchers who have not read a paper from Josh Wallman’s myopia research laboratory and, for researchers who crossed his path, he will be remembered for his enthusiasm for science and interest in and promotion of their work.

The ZEISS Young Investigator Award for Myopia Research recognizes young researchers for their distinguished contribution in the field of myopia research. ZEISS is committed to its heritage: Promotion of excellence in research. Innovation has a long tradition at ZEISS since 1846. Promoting future scientists is anchored in the company statutes – a specification of Ernst Abbe who established the Foundation. ZEISS’s sponsorship of the Josh Wallman Memorial Lecture reflects their strong belief in the importance for better and healthier lives, of both science and innovative business.