Interview with Kevin Chan, PhD

Dr. Kevin Chan talks about his research on glaucoma and what motivated him to become a scientist.

Learn more about Dr. Chan's BrightFocus-funded research.

Sarah: Hi…  So, could you start by please telling us your name and what institution you're with?

Dr. Chan: Sure. My name is Kevin Chan and I'm from New York University School of Medicine. I'm currently an Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, Radiology, and Neuroscience.

Sarah: Great. And can you tell us a little bit more about what you're working on?

Dr. Chan: Sure. So, our lab has been working on glaucoma. Currently, glaucoma is an irreversible disease of the vision system and is the world’s leading cause of irreversible blindness. Right now, the only way our organizations are approved to treat glaucoma is through changing the eye pressure, but eye pressure changes — currently the only risk factor in glaucoma. And there are a lot of cases after treating glaucoma by lowering pressure to normal levels, these subjects may continue to progress in that disease. So currently, we don't have a cause of this disease. So, one of the emerging hypotheses is that maybe the glaucoma disease does also not only involve the eye, but also the brain. So, we are trying to develop some imaging techniques to see how it may be also involving the brain apart from the eye in the early stages. And our current results suggest that we may be able to see some structural and functional changes in our patients' early stage, even before we can detect the vision loss in a clinical environment. So, this is encouraging. This may suggest that we may be able to monitor and see some changes before the patients are currently able to detect this disease using current techniques. And we want to go beyond that to see how we may be able to intervene by understanding what's really going on.

Sarah:  — Oh, wow!

Dr. Chan: … into this work.

Sarah: Oh wow! So, you're saying those brain changes occurring before symptoms, before it worsens. Is it right?

Dr. Chan: So apparently, currently, right now the clinical ways to detect glaucoma efficient losses [is] by using the Humphrey visual field. And it appears that in early glaucoma, we can see some changes from the spectrum before there's substantial visual field loss that we can detect in the clinic.

Sarah: — Oh wow!

Dr. Chan: So, we want to see what may be going on both structurally and functionally. And this has been recently also observed in other than broad treatment, which suggest that this phenomenal seems to be happening. So, we are trying to look into more details what’s really the underlying causes in both humans and also in glaucoma experimental models. And we also observed that there may be some types of metabolites that has been depleted, so if and it has happened in both humans and also in the animal models. So, the next question is— if there's any changes in these neurochemicals, is it possible to try targeting these chemicals and there are some initial encouraging results in the animal models that we may be able to do that. And maybe we can really target more than just the eye. This is some ongoing work that we are going to go deeper and verify.

Sarah: — Great!

Dr. Chan: … in the future.

Sarah: Well, that's great. That's great. So, What has been your greatest day as a scientist so far?

Dr. Chan: So, we are currently a young group and we have been in a developing our group for no longer than just 10 years. So, so far, one of the greatest days in our lab is to be able to see our early lab members develop and grow into mature scientists and developed their own program, and continue to work and contribute to science and solve biomedical problems. And two weeks ago, I just met one of my postdocs, in Montreal during a meeting. He is building up his team. He’s also getting his own government support called Arrow One. So, things that are really encouraging from this point. And the same time, we are also building things inside of science step by step. So, every of these small steps are pretty encouraging too. So, really, it depends on a lot of our collaborators, and also our team work. So, I really appreciate having such a good environment so far.

Sarah: Great, great. So Why did you become a scientist in the first place?

Dr. Chan: So, when I was young, I had been fascinated by understanding to see how things are interconnected. And I was particularly interested in the brain, because this is complex, but at the same time very ordered structure and helps you to understand the world. And I was trained as a biomedical engineer. So, I graduated and got a PhD. And my imaging advisor was that… I mean my engineering advisor was doing imaging and then I have a medical advisor doing biology on official systems. So, things just naturally merged together, and the rest is history. Just pushed together, everything's moving on along the flow. And yup, then I was very encouraged by our mentors in the previous years, especially Dr. Joel Schuman. He has been really encouraging, supporting to think about outside the box and to try to go for some paradigm shifts that can help resolve some biomedical problems as far as we can build up the rigorous scientific foundations to help answer these…

Sarah: — Great!

Dr. Chan: …questions.

Sarah: Great! So, one final question. When you are not in the lab, what do you like to do for fun?

Dr. Chan: So, I’m… I’ve been interested in like reading, drawing, exploring around with things. For readings, I also tried to at the same time serve at the community. So, I've been taking a couple of posts like as a deputy editor of several journals. So, we can while reading as the time contributed to a recommendation, editing at like 80 to 200 papers per year. This is taking time, but it is rewarding and also contributive. And whenever it is chance to go to conferences or meeting I would try to explore around to learn different cultures and museums [and] events. And I just moved in to New York University for two years. So even locally there's a lot of things you can explore around including those museums or cultural events, MOMA, broadways, and Lincoln center. So, there's a lot of things you can really try to enrich your mind think in a different way. And in the end, it can also help you to think different angles to help solve the problems that you're working in the lab.

Sarah: Oh, absolutely! Well Thank you so much for your time today.

Dr. Chan: — Thank you so much.

Sarah: And I hope you enjoy the evening.

Dr. Chan: Thank you for having me.

This content was first posted on: June 29, 2019
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