Nancy Newman, Neuro-Opthalmology


Nancy Newman Nancy Newman's motto is "Never miss an opportunity". It's a credo that she lives by, teaches to her students, and passes on to her patients. As a scientist, doctor, and educator, Newman knows that opportunities rarely come knocking twice. If you want to make a difference, you have to be willing to take a chance.

Newman is a neuro-ophthalmologist, a diagnostician who identifies brain disease by using eye exams. She is one of only about 250 such specialists in the country. Newman helps patients gain control over disorders of the eye and brain by identifying the problem; making sure patients know what the problem is, where it is, and how it can be treated; and sending them to the appropriate doctor when intervention is necessary. Her particular areas of interest are vision and ocular motility. A renowned teacher and researcher, she has published over 300 articles and chapters, as well as four books. In 2003 Newman was named the American Neurological Association's Teacher of the Year, and in 2005 she received the Dean's Teaching Award at Emory.

After completing her undergraduate degree at Princeton, Newman received a Marshall scholarship to study art history at the University of London. Always interested in medicine, she pursued an M.D. at Harvard Medical School. During her first year there, Newman became captivated by neurology and quickly turned to neuro-ophthalmology as a specialty. Choosing neuro-ophthalmology allowed Newman the opportunity to study numerous diseases, each of which was somehow connected to the eye. She explains, "Visual pathways make up more than one third of the brain, and the pathways for how the eyes move crisscross the entire brain stem. There is essentially not a single neurologic disease that doesn't have the potential of having neuro-opthalmic manifestations."

Emory recruited Newman directly out of her fellowship, offering her a senior level job when she arrived at the university in 1989. She was given a directorship in her sub-specialty, and the chance to create her own job description. Says Newman, "I was able to create things here that I never, ever would have been able to do in an already-established neuro-opthalmology unit." She grabbed hold of this new opportunity and hit the ground running. Newman began working with a geneticist who had just discovered the first point mutation in the mitochondrial DNA associated with a human disease. Many disorders have since been identified as mitochondrial diseases, and often they are accompanied by neurologic and opthalmalogic manifestations. Newman has become closely involved with the clinical applications of these research efforts, as well as the world's expert on such diseases.

Newman describes herself as a translator. Part of her job is to interpret complex scientific concepts for clinicians, making them easier to understand. She also explains clinical work to basic scientists, to help them figure out what they should be looking for. As a translator, Newman has built an international network of clinical and basic scientists who work to find interventions for numerous diseases. And, she has made Emory the place to go for help. "In my specialty we’ve made the name Emory synonymous with where you want to be for neuro-opthalmology," says Newman.

Newman seized her own opportunities, and she strives to help others do the same. She is committed to mentoring and faculty development, and works with students in the fields of neurology, ophthalmology, neurosurgery, and neuroradiology. Additionally, she chairs the Faculty Committee on Appointments and Promotions (FCAP), which assesses applications for promotions in the School of Medicine.

In addition to her teaching, mentoring, patient care, and administrative responsibilities, Newman is currently surveying the treatment practices of neurologists and ophthalmologists in seven countries. Together with her colleague Valerie Biousse, she is exploring how doctors use information from evidence-based clinical trial publications when providing patient care. Newman and Biousse want to know whether doctors follow the recommendations in these publications, and whether this varies from country to country. Newman explains, "We've found that some countries are markedly different in how they accept and interpret clinical trials coming from the United States and Canada."

Newman and Biousse would like to conduct more treatment trials— a difficult challenge, since neuro-ophthalmic diseases are fairly rare. Any discoveries made, however, have the potential for broad application, as they would inform treatment practices for a range of diseases. Newman is proud that Emory is a leader in treating neuro-ophthalmologic diseases, as well as a training ground for the next generation of scientists. "We have a phenomenal fellowship program here within neuro-ophthalmology and we train those who go on in academia, then train their own," she says. "It's like having children and grandchildren." By following her gut and avoiding missed opportunities, Newman has put Emory neuro-ophthalmology on the national and international map. As she puts it, "Emory is the only game in town. And that's very special."