Professor Anja Eckstein is an ophthalmologist specialising in orbital inflammatory disease. She is the head of the orbital centre of oculoplastics and orthoptic at University of Duisburg, Essen. In this interview she tells us about her academic inspirations, challenges in her field and what we can expect from her SfE BES lecture.
Tell us about your career so far?
I trained as an ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital, University Eye Hospital in Tübingen and at the University of Duisburg-Essen. Currently, I’m head of the department for oculoplastic and reconstructive surgery, the orbital centre, and the orthoptic department at the University of Duisburg-Essen. While in medical school I started research with a project on isolated retina and measured light potentials in different cell types with microelectrodes. So I started off my career in the field of medical retina but switched later to the ocular adnex disease, and the main clinical and research focus in Essen are orbital inflammatory diseases.
Who is your academic inspiration?
I would like to give special thanks to my British colleagues. Participating in the EU INDIGO (Investigation of Novel biomarkers and Definition of the role of the microbiome In Graves’ Orbitopathy) project under the lead of Professor Marion Ludgate from the University of Cardiff was a particular academic inspiration. It was great to work with colleagues from many EU countries. I have been a member of EUGOGO since 2006 and the opportunity to exchange knowledge with the members of this research association has always inspired me, I especially enjoy the sense of humour of my British colleagues. A special mention goes to my excellent colleague Petros Perros from Newcastle. And, my colleague Simon Pearce whose work I admire in bringing new therapies to patients with autoimmune thyroid disease. I would also like to mention the always fruitful exchange with my colleagues in EUGOGO and ITEDS.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
In our orbital centre we have many translational research topics that have a direct impact on patient care. We conduct molecular research on both in vivo and in vitro models of Graves’ orbitopathy. Here we look for new targets for therapeutic intervention and new possibilities for prevention. We also participate in phase 2-4 clinical trials testing new targeted therapies for patients with Graves’ orbitopathy. As a member of EUGOGO, I have also been able to take part in other clinical studies. The great thing about translational and clinical research is that the results go directly to the patient and improve patient care.
What are the biggest challenges your field faces?
We do research on rare, autoimmune diseases. Most research funding goes to oncology and cardiology, so it can be difficult to get funding for our research. Furthermore, a lot of the large companies who perform approval studies for drugs are mainly interested in common diseases, which can make it difficult for our field to secure support. For this reason, though, it is all the more gratifying that targeted blockade of the thyroid stimulating hormones (TSH) receptor by autoantibodies and small molecules is being researched through several therapy options.
What are the most exciting developments happening in your field?
Definitely the studies currently exploring the targeted blockade of the autoantibody-stimulated TSH receptor. If successful drugs can be approved here, it will prevent a series of painful and major surgeries in patients with Graves’ orbitopathy.
What are you presenting at your SfE BES lecture?
I will be giving a historical overview of milestones in Graves’ disease research, and illustrating the impact that these discoveries had on the care of patients with Graves’ orbitopathy. I will also be highlighting both the importance of both in vivo and in vitro models, since this is a focus of our molecular laboratory. Furthermore, I will address the new EUGOGO guideline for the treatment of patients with Graves’ orbitopathy, and the challenges of some new drugs being available in the USA but not yet in Europe.
Do you have any advice for aspiring endocrinologists?
As an ophthalmologist, this is a bit difficult for me. But in general I would recommend attending many international and national scientific meetings and cultivating exchanges with colleagues. You always get new ideas for work.
You can attend Professor Anja Eckstein, the 2022 British Thyroid Association Pitt-Rivers Lecture “TED/GO from bench to bedside“ on Wednesday 16 November from 8:30 – 9am.
Take a look at the full scientific programme for SfE BES 2022.