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Focus On: Kaitlyn Sapoznik, OD, William C. Ezell Fellow

More than 2.5 billion people around the world suffer from vision problems that can be corrected by a trained eyecare professional who can dispense a pair of eyeglasses. Around the world, though, eyecare professionals are sometimes scarce. That’s why, when given the opportunity, we choose to invest in the future of these enthusiastic changemakers – changemakers like Kaitlyn Sapoznik, OD.

Earlier this year Kaitlyn, a graduate of Illinois College of Optometry, received a William C. Ezell Fellowship sponsored by The Vision Impact Institute. Organized by the American Academy of Optometry Foundation (AAOF), the Ezell Fellowship program was established to provide talented post-doctoral students, who are pursing an advanced degree in optometric research, with recognition and support.

We recently asked Kaitlyn about her work and plans for the future. Here’s what she said:

Why did you decide to focus your studies and career on vision? I started wearing glasses and contacts as a teenager and loved going to my optometrist growing up. He always encouraged me to consider a career in optometry. During my undergraduate studies, I worked for an optometrist in Chicago, in a multi-disciplinary setting, where my passion for ocular health developed. I completed my OD at Illinois College of Optometry followed by an ocular disease residency at Indiana University School of Optometry (IUSO). It was during my residency at IUSO that I became involved in vision science research. I really enjoyed how research enabled me to contribute to patient care in a different way than clinical practice. Currently, I’m at IUSO completing my PhD in Vision Science.

What compelled you to apply for the Ezell Fellowship? The Ezell Fellowship is a great honor and distinction as a developing clinician scientist in optometry and it’s been a goal of mine to apply since beginning my PhD.  I’m grateful to the AAOF and The Vision Impact Institute for providing this opportunity to develop my career and am honored to share this title with many exceptional vision science researchers.

Where will you focus your research? My research will focus on high-resolution (adaptive optics) imaging of changes in the retina of diabetic patients. In our lab we use an adaptive optics scanning laser ophthalmoscope that enables us to see individual cells in our participants. We can see individual photoreceptors, red blood cells, and more. Diabetes is a major cause of vision loss in working aged adults, something I encounter daily in clinical practice, and our lab can detect changes in our participants with diabetes that cannot be detected with a standard clinical examination. My research focuses on investigating these changes as potential biomarkers for disease progression.

What are your plans for the future? In the future, I plan to continue to perform translational research, teach, and provide patient care as a faculty member at an optometric institution.

What advice would you give to future applicants? My advice for future applicants is pretty simple – work hard, take every opportunity you can to make your work visible, and make sure you have a great support system. I cannot stress enough how much the support of my mentor, Stephen Burns, lab members, and colleagues at IUSO have contributed to my success thus far.