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Redefining Myopia: How Lisa McAlister Is Taking On an Unseen Health Challenge Redefining Myopia: How Lisa McAlister Is Taking On an Unseen Health Challenge

It's believed that nearly half the world's population will be myopic by 2050—but not if Lisa McAlister and her team at Johnson & Johnson Vision have their way. Here's the story of one pioneering woman in STEM who has her eyes on global impact.

Seeing Myopia With 20/20 Vision

While the exact biological cause of myopia is unknown, we do know that myopia's prevalence around the world is rapidly increasing—nearly half of the world's population (49.8%) will be myopic by 2050—and so, too, is its severity. By 2050, a diagnosis of "high myopia" is expected for almost one in ten (9.8%) people, for example.
The diagnosis is associated with a substantially increased risk for a number of sight-threatening conditions.

Already, you can see some of this playing out on a global scale—and it's impacting different populations in dramatically different ways. For example, while myopia affects around 27% of the world's population, among late teenagers and young adults in countries like Korea, Taiwan and China, that percentage is believed to be between 84 and 97%.

For Lisa McAlister, Global Myopia Lead at Johnson & Johnson Vision, that's a mandate for radical change—beginning with the language itself. "First of all, we’re redefining myopia," she said. "Myopia and near-sightedness are not the same thing. This is something we've only learned in the last 10 or so years. Myopia should be framed as a chronic and progressive disease that can culminate in blindness."

But thanks to bold innovation, Lisa and her team are on the cusp of releasing a breakthrough product that just might change all of that—for good.

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It's a noble cause, but what's more noble is how you go about doing it.

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Innovating Like a Startup

The ultimate goal for Lisa and her team goes well beyond the short-term solution of corrected vision. Rather, as she put it: "We want to provide effective treatments that actually slow down elongation of the eye."

That elongation is what causes images formed by the cornea and lens to land in front of the photoreceptors of the retina, the part of the eye containing cells that respond to light. As a result, far-away objects appear blurry, like images produced by an out-of-focus projector.

"It's a noble cause," Lisa said, "but what's more noble is how you go about doing it."

So, how are they doing it?

For one, Lisa's colleagues built one of the first predictive models for understanding direct health and medical costs associated with myopia and related eye conditions around the world. But more than that, Lisa—here echoing Market Access leaders at Johnson & Johnson like Jay Trudeau—says that listening closely to the voices of the people most directly affected has been integral to her team's success.

Lisa explained: "We started interviewing patients, parents and doctors. 'What do you like? What do you need? How can we make this better?' These were such important questions."

And the progress Lisa’s team has made so far is frankly impressive, especially when you consider its size. "My team consists in about 10 people," she said, "and that's out of the thousands of people working in vision care at Johnson & Johnson."

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We're more like a startup than anything else. We definitely have that freedom, and we always take a nimble, flexible approach to our processes. The lines between roles can get pretty blurry.

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Lisa's Path to Johnson & Johnson

For as long as Lisa can remember, she says she's had an interest in science and math. But she's quick to add: "I have a very creative side, as well." It was a constellation of interests that later had Lisa, then an undergrad at the University of Florida, changing majors from microbiology to finance ("more practical").

After graduating, Lisa launched her career in corporate retail. There, she learned how to leverage analytics for business insights, and adopted the customer-centric outlook she still has today. "But I also felt like something was missing," she said. "My heart was always in the science and healthcare space."

So after earning an MBA, Lisa naturally felt at home at Johnson & Johnson, where she's been exposed to multiple functional areas: sales, marketing, analytics and more. "That kind of exposure has really helped me develop in my career," she said.

Of course, for the past several months, Lisa and her team, like most people around the world, have been forced to work remotely on account of COVID-19.

"It’s been amazing to watch our team find creative ways to connect," she said. "I think we’re communicating even more now, and being more efficient with our time. People are adapting the technology they use in their own personal lives for work purposes. But what I love most is that we’re texting each other to check in a lot—not just from a work perspective, but from a personal perspective, too."

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I wanted to find an industry where I could give back—and I wanted to find a company that gives as much to me as I give to it.

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Join Lisa (and the Rest of Us) Today!

Ready to see how your unique perspective, insight and vision can help us improve the trajectory of health for people around the world? Check out all of the roles we're hiring for right now.

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