He took an unusual path to Columbia University’s Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center, where he has been the Director of Ophthalmology for the past 12 years. “I have always been a visual person,” said Daniel Casper, MD, PhD, Associate Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. In his youth, he wanted to be a visual artist, a sculptor, perhaps, even an animator—not an ophthalmologist.
Dr. Casper still remembers what an older family friend, who sculpted as an avocation, would ask him—“what will you really do when you grow up?” Uncertain of the answer, he took his brains, imagination, sense of humor and bachelor’s degree in art and biology to Tufts University, where he earned a PhD in anatomy. After an initial research project involving bats and skin transplants, he began to see the art in the eye itself as, “a cool and unusual organ,” and redirected his research interests, and eventually his career, towards the eye.
After medical school at Albany Medical College and residency training in Ophthalmology at the Harkness Eye Institute at Columbia University Medical Center, he remained at Columbia for fellowship training in Orbital and Oculoplastic Surgery. During that fellowship, he was senior author and illustrator of a textbook on orbital diseases and imaging. He joined the Berrie Center in 2002.
The acquisition of a new state-of-the-art retinal camera was recently made possible with a generous gift to the Berrie Center from the Berkley Family. The new equipment couldn’t be in better hands. Said Dr. Casper, “We are extremely grateful to the Berkleys for so generously underwriting the cost of this new camera that will provide thousands of patients with both high-resolution digital images of the interior of the eye as well as optical coherence tomography (OCT) data, which produces non-invasively obtained, cross-sectional and 3-D retinal imaging. OCT images are now considered the gold standard method for detecting and monitoring diabetic macular edema, one of the major causes of vision impairment in diabetes.”
The new instrument, Dr. Casper continued, has “non-mydriatic capabilities,” meaning that images can be obtained without dilation of the pupils. “It is exceptionally well tolerated by children and light-sensitive adults."
Dr. Casper is an expert in the detection and prevention of diabetic retinopathy, an eye condition caused by leakage from retinal capillaries, and growth of abnormal new retinal vessels. He also has interests in ophthalmic imaging and medical informatics, which combines information science, computer science and health care. He is a specialist in medical and scientific art and illustration.
“I rarely sculpt anymore,” Dr. Casper said. “I mostly do drawing and photography now. I do ‘real’ art when I have time, mostly on vacation, and I do medical illustration on a fairly constant basis. Professionally, I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing through the Berrie Center.”
"I was trained to be a comprehensive, general ophthalmologist and that’s what I enjoy doing most,” continued Dr. Casper. "This is what makes the Berrie Center such a unique and enjoyable place for me; because I am available to all patients at the Center, I see patients with a wide range of ocular conditions—from those with perfectly healthy eyes, to those with diabetes-related complications who require aggressive care to help maintain or sometimes even improve their sight."
Click the clip below to watch A Visual Guide to Diabetes, produced and narrated by Dr. Casper.
To learn more about Dr. Casper and to support his work, contact the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center Development Office at 917-484-0090.