Hindsight, 1982: Dr. Alan Bird

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In 1982 the New Orleans Academy of Ophthalmology celebrated our 30th Annual Symposium by covering the subjects of Medical and Surgical Diseases of the Retina & Vitreous.  Among our speakers was world-renowned retina specialist Dr. Alan Bird.

Dr. Bird was born and raised in London on July 4th, 1938, and earned his medical degree from University of London at Guys Hospital while studying neurology and neurosurgery.  Ophthalmology soon captured his attention, and he went on to complete a residency at Moorfields Eye Hospital and a fellowship in neuro-ophthalmology at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, Florida. In 1969, he returned to London and took a staff appointment at the Institute of Ophthalmology at Moorfields, where he remained until the end of his career.

In the 1970s Dr. Bird’s interest in retina emerged, and he began to concentrate on degenerative and hereditary diseases, working with numerous fellows in a variety of multidisciplinary activities involving electrophysiology, specialized imaging, psychophysics, immunology, and pathology.  This collaborative research has resulted in the development of new technologies to define the clinical characteristics of retinal disease.  Dr. Bird was able to correlate abnormal gene expression with metabolic dysfunction at the cellular level, leading to a clearer understanding of retinal degenerative diseases and better genetic counseling for patients.

In addition to his research at Moorfields’, he spent time in Africa undertaking research in river blindness and found that retinal and optic nerve disease was the main cause of this illness, rather than corneal scarring, and that the standard treatment of diethyl carbamizine citrate was causing rapid onset of blindness.  This lead to the highly successful institution of ivermectin as the preferred treatment.  Dr. Bird also participated in Dr. Graham Serjeant’s 20-year study on the retinal changes in sickle cell disease.

A prolific writer, Dr. Bird has published more than 370 papers in refereed journals, as well as 70 book chapters.  He has received numerous awards for his contributions, including:  The Sir Duke-Elder Award; the Prix Chauvin; the Helen Keller Prize; the Alcon Research Award; the Jules Francois Medal; and the Doyne Medal.  He has also given numerous named lectures throughout Europe and North America.

On October 1, 2005, Dr. Bird retired from full-time clinical practice but continues his research and teaching work.   In March of 2006 he joined iCo Therapeutics’ strategic advisory team, acting as an advisor for the company’s ophthalmic product lines.  That same year he played a key role in the design and evaluation of numerous clinical trials involving ground-breaking treatments in retinal disease.  He also served as chair on the Independent Data Safety and Monitoring Committee for the pegaptanib pivotal trial for age-related macular degeneration.  In 2008 he was honored as an American Academy of Ophthalmology Laureate.

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