'Bubbling cauldron of new ideas'

November 15, 2010

Throughout the eye department at Duke, faculty, residents, fellows and scientists work to further the understanding of eye disease and discover potential treatments.

Toward that end, Duke encourages translational research by clinician-scientists, who can delve into their patients' problems in the lab, and one day return to their bedside with a treatment. Research sponsored by the National Eye Institute's Mentored Clinical Scientists Development Program fosters young faculty fresh from residency and fellowship training and helps them gain their footing in a research project.

Once they complete their training, physicians often struggle to find time and resources for research as they try to establish a clinical practice, contributing to a high disillusionment rate, Dr. Epstein said.

"One of the greatest frustrations (for young researchers) is they're competing with basic scientists for grants and they're starting out 5 years in arrears," he said. The program at Duke "provides enough sheltered time for people for the rest of their career. I call it the keystone for the rest of their career."

"(The trainees) are at the height of their clinical acumen and now they're going to learn the latest in science to apply it to their clinical conditions," Dr. Epstein said. "It's the way we're eventually going to find cures."

Residents also are expected to do research, and a research project is required for each of their 3 years. By the end of their 3-year program, residents average two publications, said Pratap Challa, MD, Duke residency program director and associate professor of ophthalmology.