Dr. Jan Richard Bruenech: “European Optometrists need to impress the decision-making politicians, not only their patients”

Dr. Jan Richard Bruenech: “European Optometrists need to impress the decision-making politicians, not only their patients”

The prestigious Dr. Jan Richard Bruenich is the Director of the Biomedical Research Unit and Professor of Ocular Anatomy at the Buskerud University College in Norway. Dr. Bruenech is one of the excellent international speakers who will participate in the VI International Congress of Behavioral Optometry and Visual Therapy, organized by SIODEC in Granada from March 27 to 30, 2019. His informative presentation will take place on Thursday, March 28, 18:45 at 19:45 and is titled ‘How We Understand Our World: Current Concepts About Extra-retinal Information and Oculomotor Control‘.

Dr. Bruenech believes that Behavioral Optometry has been ahead of its time and that now many of its theories and tenets are supported by current biomedical research. In addition, he thinks that knowledge about the neuroanatomical organization of the visual system is a valuable clinical tool not only for optometrists, but for all professionals dedicated to health care. In this interview he comments on his work experience and discusses some scientific research. He also tells us about his participación in the VI Congress of SIODEC.

[Registration for Dr.’s seminar and all other information regarding the International Congress of Behavioral Optometry and Visual Therapy  can be found at this link: http://www.siodec.org/en/siodecgranadacongress/]

1. After graduating in Biomedicine, why did you decide to study Optometry and Visual Sciences?

The visual system has always fascinated me, especially the structural complexity of the system and the extensive neural network it has with other important systems in the body. Accepting the notion that structure and function goes “hand in hand” then it should be possible to enhance a number of biological functions through good professional eye care. The Optometry and Visual science course in the UK therefore seemed like a natural choice.

2. Later you did your doctorate in Ocular Anatomy and obtained a degree in research leadership at the medical faculty at Oslo University. Why did you want to specialize in this subject?

I was delighted when the university invited me to do research on the neuroanatomy of the visual system and I soon realised that I wanted to continue with this type of work in years to come. I therefore founded the Biomedical Research Unit at the University of Southeast Norway, shortly after I compleated my PhD. Over the years I gradually became more involved in the administration of the faculty. The responsibility I was given inspired me to learn more about the “rules of the game” and the program at Oslo University gave me valuable insight into research leadership.  

3. You were Head of Department, Vice Dean and Head of Research at the University of Southeast Norway, what did you learn during this time in these administrative positions?

I have learnt that motivation and inspiration are important driving forces behind success and that the best results are often achieved through a team effort. The latter is not easy to achieve unless all members of the team are given important roles to play and strongly feel that their competence and experience is put to good use. As a team leader, you should therefore embrace all spontaneous creativity, brainstorming and informal dialog and be grateful each time a co-worker comes up with a better idea than your own. Furthermore, the goal of god leadership should not only be to initiate motivation and inspiration, but also strive to sustain these driving forces over time.

4. You have done a considerable research on the human central nervous system with emphasis on visual functions. Could you tell us briefly about this work and its results?

This field of research has provided insight into how the central nervous system is able to process the vast amount of sensory information it receives from our various senses. The visual system has neural pathways that terminate in a variety of cortical and sub-cortical areas and has a much higher impact on the brain compared to the other senses. From this follows that visual information plays an important role in the brains decision-making process and influence many more aspects of our behavior than previously assumed.

5. You have published a broad variety of scientific papers and have presented a lot of researches at scientific and medical conferences worldwide. What is the visual research that have surprised more attendees and what is the most amazing visual case that you remember in this sense?

 Many health care professionals seem to be surprised by the fact that the visual system supports the normal development of many biological functions and helps to maintain them during the ageing process. Even functions, which seem to be remotely associated with vision, may be jeopardized by small visual anomalies. This can be exemplified by conditions where the proprioceptive signal from ocular structures have been disrupted and no longer coincides with the subjects visual input. This will confuse the brain as to where the eyes are pointing in relation to the object of interest, often to such an extent that the patient will obtain a better degree of balance, orientation and understanding of the surroundings when the affected eye is closed. The fact that such rivalry between the senses can cause myogenic and neurogenic degeneration also seem to surprise many people. Luckily, many of these conditions can be treated by various non-invasive treatment regimes.    

6. You collaborate with medical and academic institutions in Europe and the United States. How do you see the Research in Optometry in Spain? What do you think it needs to improve?

I must admit that I have only limited knowledge of how Optometry in Spain is organized. However, from my previous involment in the European Diploma of Optometry I know that many European countries are facing similar challenges, which are often related to the legislation and the scope of practise. In order to obtain more privileges and responsibilities within the healt care system, Optometrists need to keep on promoting their competence and knowledge, both through research and evidence based practice. In other words, European Optometrists need to impress the decision-making politicians, not only their patients.   

7. Currently you teach optometry students, nurses, physiotherapists and medical students at all academic levels. Do these disciplines have any formative need in common? What kind of knowledge do you think the optometrists still need? Do you think that interdisciplinarity among professionals from different fields is necessary to carry out research works?

The visual system has gradually become an important part of the syllabus in the education of many healthcare professions worldwide. This implies that the new generation of physiotherapist, nurses, general practitioners and other health care professionals will have a better understanding of ocular anomalies than what we see today. It is advantageous for the patients that many healthcare professionals have a good understanding of the visual system and it will inevitably initiate more interdisciplinary research and collaboration between the professions. However, it might also lead to a shift in the scope of practice. Hence, unless optometrists keep on promoting their competence and knowledge, other profession may gradually take over some of their responsibilities and privileges.

8. In the 6th International SIODEC Congress of Behavioral Optometry and Vision Therapy will make the presentation ‘How we understand our world: Current concepts of extra-retinal information and oculomotor control’. Could you write us a brief summary of this topic?

The structural and functional organization of the visual system is unique and outranks all of our other senses when it comes to providing the brain with sensory information. Not only does the visual system provide the brain with a larger amount of information than the other senses but the information itself arise from a more diverse complement of sensory receptors. Information from photoreceptors and photosensitive ganglion cells is constantly cross-referenced with information from proprioceptors in the oculomotor system. Sensory information from the latter type of receptors, often referred to as extra-retinal information, plays a much larger role in visual perception and our understanding of our world than previously assumed. This indicates that even small binocular vision anomalies may have implications for a broad spectrum of important biological functions, not only those we usually associate with vision.

9. How do you think about the role of SIODEC in the Behavioral Optometry and Visual Therapy on an international level?

The behavioral optometry concept has arguably been ahead of its time for decades since many aspects of vison therapy have been supported through resent biomedical research.

It is therefore commendable that SIODEC keeps inviting speakers with different backgrounds and nationalities to their conferences.  This forms a good platform for discussing various aspects of optometry and the validity of the various treatment regimes.


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