Ophthalmology: Our Field and Its Future – an interview with DOG President Prof. Dr. Claus Cursiefen

The topic of this year’s DOG Conference is “Ophthalmology: Our Field and Its Future”. DOG President Prof. Dr. Claus Cursiefen talks about his reasons to choose this motto, innovative conference formats, and highlights to look forward to.

You chose this year’s DOG tagline “Ophthalmology: Our Field and Its Future”. What message do you wish to send with it?

Prof. Claus Cursiefen:
A message with an internal and external impact. Despite all the challenges typical in medicine, our field is a highly fascinating one as it provides us with the privilege and unique opportunity to maintain our patients’ vision. As clinical ophthalmologists, we are aware of this but need to communicate this high value to our staff and students as well as to external stakeholders like decision makers in politics and research foundations. Ophthalmology is an important field. Ophthalmologists treat widespread diseases. And due to demographic change, we are facing duties of care on an increasing scale. Ophthalmology has the benefit of comprising both conservative and surgical treatments. It is a field of exciting developments – including pioneering gene therapies – and uses digitization for groundbreaking new opportunities. In short: our field has many perspectives and dimensions. This is why the DOG Conference will include three symposia dedicated to the future. One will focus on health policies, one on professional education and training, and one on unmet needs in research. At the Conference, we want to confirm our status, both within our organization and to external stakeholders.

There will be two new formats at the event: “Highlights in Translational Science” and the “DOG International Experts Day”. What can participants expect from these formats?

Both formats are based on our motto “Our Field and Its Future”. The future is open; it can only be molded through research. Problems arising in treatments need to be addressed by translational research approaches. They are only solvable with interdisciplinary and international collaboration. Against this backdrop, the symposium “Highlights in Translational Science” wants to connect clinicians and researchers. Clinical ophthalmologists will discover in which areas lab research is on its way to hospital applications to serve patients in the not-too-far future. Research scientists, on the other hand, will learn more about what diseases can be treated and how. We have set four focus areas in which there is currently a lot going on, with a critical mass of researchers in Germany: the cornea, glaucoma, dry eye disease, and AMD. Each symposium starts with a lecture providing an overview of the current clinical state of the art, followed by three or four brief presentations by scientists or clinician scientists on clinically relevant areas of research. For each session, there will be an award for the best presentation.

The format “DOG International Experts Day” is a further step on our road toward internationalization. With top experts from around the globe at the Conference, the event has an already strong international profile. The update format was designed to make this wealth of expertise accessible to our attendees. Throughout Friday, there will be an all-day English-language program with one room dedicated to lectures and presentations in English, from morning to night. The Experts Day will be an interactive format in a relaxed setting. Experts will give presentations on their respective core expertise while two moderators sitting in chairs on stage ask questions and encourage the audience to join the discussion. From Thursday through Saturday, we thus offer our participants and attendees a continued program in English, which we hope will promote international connections and exchange. 

What other scientific highlights await the conference participants?

Highlights definitely include our Keynote Lectures. On Saturday, Professor Dimitri Azar, Chief Medical Officer for Google/Alphabet’s research organization Verily, will be talking about artificial intelligence and the eye. Prof. Dimitri Azar, an ophthalmologist specializing in the cornea, will present exciting ophthalmological projects, from smart contact lenses to new developments in retina imaging and digital interpretations of retinal images for precision medicine. On Friday, Professor Michael Bach from Freiburg will give the Albrecht von Graefe Lecture, talking about visual perception and subjective vs. objective determination of visual acuity. Professor Bach developed a computer-based method that defines visual acuity semi-automatically and according to DIN standards. The first Keynote Lectures will be held on Thursday by Professor Jesper Hjortdal from Denmark. Prof. Hjortdal is the President of the European Society of Cornea and Ocular Surface Disease Specialists EUCORNEA and will report on the latest developments and studies in the field of keratoconus – a very exciting topic, not least since crosslinking has been included in the German statutory health insurance scheme. Naturally, I’m very curious to see how the new formats “DOG International Experts Day” and “Highlights in Translational Science” fare with our participants.

What topics do you believe to be particularly relevant for the practice of ophthalmology? What does the future hold in store for clinical ophthalmologists?

There will be the proven formats “DOG Update – State of the Art 2019”, of course, plus the “DOG International Experts Day”. Ophthalmologists in clinics and private practices interested in topics with clinical relevance can get a comprehensive update in three insight-packed days.  A visit to the “DOG Forum digital” is certainly worth a visit as it offers a range of tips on practical applications of digitization. The forum builds on last year’s focus topic, now extended over the three days of the industry show. I also recommend the symposium on the future of outpatient and inpatient care, where we will discuss structural transformations. Ophthalmology as a field is becoming “more female”, with a higher level of sub-specialization and more demand for part-time work models. We will also talk about investor-driven medicine, which narrows the perspectives for young professionals. Ophthalmologists trying to succeed with their own private practice in an attractive location will struggle with the pricing pressure from large chains. In a statement on this issue, DOG has taken a clear position against the effects of profit-driven medicine. 

Will you share your very own conference tip? What program item are you looking forward to in particular?

I am looking forward to the opening ceremony with Professor Pascale Ehrenfreund, CEO of the German Aerospace Center (DLR). Her keynote on “Mission Mars – Cutting-Edge Research in Space” will provide an inspiring view beyond the horizon of our field, an insight into a field that is all about vision:  where do we want to go and what will it take us to get there? These questions are important for us, too, as we strive to improve medicine. Moreover, space travel faces its very own ophthalmological challenges such as “space eye disease”, a relatively recent phenomenon occurring during long-duration space flights: astronauts suffer from papilledema leading to vision impairment. DLR and NASA have launched studies to investigate the phenomenon. As I said, I’m also very excited about Prof. Dimitri Azar’s keynote. He is probably the most prominent advocate of big data in ophthalmology and in a position to implement new concepts directly at Google. Also on Saturday, we will have the lecture by former Federal Minister of Justice and Economy, Brigitte Zypries, who will talk about Germany’s and Europe’s role in the digital transformation process – an interesting complement to Prof. Azar’s contribution. Last, but not least, my highlights include the DOG night event at TIPI – a relaxing conclusion of the event, which we will hopefully be able to enjoy in balmy weather on the beautiful roof terrace with a view of the chancellery building.