The following laudatory speech was part of the presentation of the Ammodo KNAW Award to Caroline Klaver in 2015.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Eye diseases will become increasingly important in the future. There are already about 350,000 blind or visually impaired people in our country, and the aging population means this number will grow even more over the coming years. Caroline Klaver is a driving force behind research into the root causes of some of the most common eye problems.
Klaver is multi-talented individual. She works as an ophthalmologist performing cataract operations and is highly committed to ultimately improving the outcomes for patients. Her chosen route is through fundamental research; for example on mice and zebrafish and by conducting large scale epidemiological studies.
For many years she worked in the United States, but more than ten years ago, she returned to the Netherlands. Based in Rotterdam, she is leading an international study on the influence of both genes and the environment on four key abnormalities: near sightedness (myopia), age-related macular degeneration, retinal dystrophy and glaucoma.
She participates in large cohort studies such as The Rotterdam Study and Generation R, is instigating epidemiological investigations herself and took the lead role in a large international research consortium called “CREAM”, which was investigating myopia.
Led by Klaver the CREAM consortium collected data from more than 45 thousand Europeans and Asians on the strength of their spectacles and their DNA. This research made it very clear that myopia is strongly linked to heredity: up to 80 percent of Asians are near sighted compared to one in three Dutch.
Partly thanks to Klaver over one hundred genes which increase the risk of myopia have already been identified. But the environment also affects the inherited risk: children and adolescents who read a lot are found to have a higher risk of myopia, while children who play outside a lot are at lower risk. Especially in Asia having a high level of education appears to be a risk factor.
Klaver’s fundamental work has also resulted in groundbreaking insights in the field of macular degeneration, a serious age-related eye disease. Klaver was the first to discover a gene which increases the risk of macular degeneration, and since then other researchers have found dozens more. At the same time her work on the influence of lifestyle factors such as smoking, unhealthy diet and lack of exercise has shown that these can greatly increase the genetic risk.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The advisory committee was impressed by the way in which, in the course of her work, Klaver is building important bridges between fundamental research on the one hand and clinical practice on the other. Ladies and Gentlemen, please show your appreciation for Caroline Klaver, winner of an Ammodo KNAW Award for Biomedical Sciences!