The knowledge acquisition and dissemination arm of an institution dedicated to the cause of ‘Knowledge for the common good of Mankind’ began the New Year most aptly with a high profile and high level exchange of knowledge and the latest scientific findings. The Elite School of Optometry a world leader in optometry research and education and the education arm of Sankara Nethralaya joined hands with the University of Melbourne, a highly respected seat of learning and research since 1855 and the Indian Institute of Science the nation’s premier research institute to conduct a Workshop on ‘Vision and Visual Neuroscience- Basic and Translational, between the 8th-10th of January 2014, the workshop being jointly funded by the University of Melbourne and Sankara Nethralaya.
The event witnessed the participation of more than 150 delegates and leading Neuroscience and Ophthalmology professionals. This included a team from the University of Melbourne’s Department of Optometry & Vision Sciences, consisting of Professor Trichur R.Vidyasagar, head of the Visual and Cognitive Neuroscience Unit, Associate Professor Allison Mckendrick, who heads up the Clinical Psychophysics Unit, Associate Professor Andrew Metha, whose lab images living retinas, Dr Andrew Anderson, whose Optological Unit studies perimetry, eye movements and neural decision making and Dr Bang Bui, head of the Ocular Physiology Unit that studies risk factors in glaucoma and diabetes. Visual Neuroscience at Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore was represented by Professor Govindarajan Rangarajan, Department of Mathematics and coordinator, DST Centre for Mathematical Biology and Dr S.P.Arun, Assistant Professor & Wellcome-DBT Intermediate Fellow, Center for Neuroscience. Sankara Nethralaya was represented by a large group of Senior Researchers and Consultants, including Dr H.N. Madhavan, Director, Microbiology Department and Dr Ronnie George, Director, Vision Research Foundation.
Professor Vidyasagar began the first day’s proceedings with high words of praise for Dr Badrinath and Sankara Nethralaya for their positive response and the amazing speed with which effective logistic support was extended for the workshop. This, according to him, exhibited clear and quick decision making, unhampered by bureaucratic delays. He complimented the Vision Research Foundation as an institution with impressive expertise and a long series of achievements in many areas of vision research. On a lighter vein, he remarked that the most engaging Indo-Australian joint participation has been the game of cricket followed keenly by millions in both countries and added that unlike cricket, there was no confrontation but only complementary effort in scientific research between the two countries. Dr S.S.Badrinath, Chairman Emeritus, Sankara Nethralaya extended a warm welcome to the distinguished delegates from the University of Melbourne and the Indian Institute of Science with the Sanskrit verse ’Adithi Devo Bava’ which means ‘Our Guest is our God”. He utilized the opportunity to explain to the visitors the motto of the institution which is ingrained in its name, he underlined that the word ‘Sankara’ means –To do Good or one who does Good and Nethralaya – a place of worship, underlining that at Sankara Nethralaya work was carried out as a prayer, with the employees giving themselves up totally to their temple of work. He underscored medical care, research and education as the three pillars of Sankara Nethralaya and how the three converge to make the battle against blindness effective, in a country which sadly has the largest number of visually impaired. Dr Badrinath also emphasized the importance of collaborative learning with giants like the University of Melbourne and the Indian Institute of Science and hoped that the workshop would be a harbinger of long-term collaborative learning by the three premier institutions.
The first day of the event witnessed in-depth lectures on a wide array of topics in vision and visual neuroscience and the second day began with a tour of the clinical science and basic science research departments of Sankara Nethralaya, followed by presentation of the strengths of each institute and a summary of funding sources for collaborative research. The workshop then continued with parallel group discussions on Glaucoma/Perimetry, Age related macular degeneration/Imaging, Neurophysiology/Attention/Eye Movements and Infectious diseases and Contact lenses. The topics for discussions were coordinated by the Elite School of optometry, keeping in mind the specific areas of interest of the University of Melbourne and the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. On Day 3, the workshop provided the students and faculty members of the ESO a rare opportunity to listen to lectures pertaining to various topics in ophthalmology and neuroscience by the Melbourne colleagues and also to guidelines for pursuing higher studies at the University of Melbourne. The three-day workshop helped in cementing the bonds between the three pioneers in research, identify areas suitable for collaborative research and pave the way for future interactions in basic and clinical research.