Meet Donald Korb, OD, FAAO
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Boston. My father was a physician and an academic, and my mother was a voice teacher and a person who rehabilitated voices.
How did you get involved in optometry research?
Ever since I was a child, I was always interested in the “why” of everything, which made me very annoying. I came across a book by Spinoza when I was 9 or 10. That had a great influence on me. It made me understand that you had to make a living. And no matter what you do, do it well, and so that you enjoy it. When I became an OD, I had ideas on how to solve patient problems; one was to better map the cornea. I discovered we could take maps of the cornea with infrared film. So I went to the Polaroid Corporation attempted to make a position for myself. Shortly thereafter I was head of ocular, oral, and dental photography. I was out of school only 24 months. That changed my life because I got to see the research of this genius, Edward Land. That experience is still with me.
Previously by Vernon Trollinger: Q&A: Contact lenses, academia and leadership, and a good sandwich
Why don’t more ODs conduct research?
Our society today is geared toward immediate gratification. It’s easy to ask questions of a colleague on the internet or via text. The question you ask may require hours of research on the part of the person who is attempting to respond. But we don’t think about that because that’s not our culture. If you want to do good research in today’s world, you cannot have a big ego.
When should researchers take their work into the commercial sector?
They may not have a choice. Many are forced to take in investors and venture capitalists, and they make those decisions. Philosophically, any invention that can help people should be brought into the commercial field after adequate testing to be certain that it will do no harm and that it’s efficacious. It must be good or have the potential to be good for society. As an example, almost all eye medications in use today have a preservative. The alternative is worse: infections and losing eyes. But now there are efforts to bring out containers with special features that eliminate preservatives. But it takes a long time for someone to observe there is a significant problem and have the intellectual curiosity to proceed. No one is going to spend millions of dollars on projects which have no return today.
Related: Optometry must change with the times