An interview with Marina Leis

October 8, 2019
Marina Leis

An interview with Marina Leis

On September 3, Marina Leis, BSc, DVM, MVSc, DACVO, joined the Veterinary Clinical Sciences faculty at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM), where she is leading the Veterinary Medical Center’s (VMC) ophthalmology service.

Equipped with extensive research experience in both small and large companion animal ophthalmology, as well as production animal ophthalmology, Leis comes to the VMC from the University of Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) in Canada, where she served as an assistant professor for three years. Leis received her BSc (2008), DVM (2012), and MVSc (2016) from the University of Saskatchewan. Leis also completed a small animal rotating internship at the WCVM in 2013 and an American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists residency there in 2016. She is a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist.

Get to know her:

1. Why did you choose the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine?

The VMC at the U of M is known to be one of the largest and busiest academic practices in the US and with that comes a wide variety of veterinary specialists that may not exist elsewhere. The large caseload is essential for teaching and research and access to those specialists creates many opportunities for new and exciting collaborations. The U of M also has a lot of opportunities for interdisciplinary research across campus. 

2. Why are you passionate about veterinary ophthalmology?

I love it because I find it offers a great balance between medicine and surgery. The clientele in this space is really motivated as their goal is to preserve vision and promote ocular health in their animal. The field of ophthalmology is constantly evolving and there are many new technologies being introduced. The rate at which this is happening is exciting but also sometimes a challenge to know how to incorporate these technologies in everyday practice and make them clinically useful. 

3. What do you most enjoy about working in an academic setting?

The ability and opportunity to advance our field. That is our job in academia — to give back through teaching and advance knowledge and research to propel us forward. If you become complacent in always doing the same thing, you actually end up taking steps backward instead of forward.

4. What are your research interests right now?

It's continually evolving, but currently my research is taking the direction of examining the different types of microbiomes on the ocular surface in animals. This is an area in human and veterinary medicine that has been exploding and people don't always know how to interpret the large amount of data, or how to make it clinically relevant, but now more than ever there is a recognition that there are a large number of microorganisms everywhere, that were previously unrecognized — on your skin, in your gut, and, maybe surprisingly to some, on your eye. 

Veterinary studies with respect to the ocular surface microbiome are really in their infancy but as we start working in this area more, we will start to be able to describe diseases in a brand new way. Results from these studies may come to have implications on how we view and understand disease, hopefully eventually revealing new therapies as well. That's where my research is at right now. 

5. What are you most looking forward to in regards to conducting your research here at the U of M?

I hope to bring a fresh perspective on clinical veterinary ophthalmology to everyone. Veterinary ophthalmology is forever changing as new advances are made in the field. The VMC caseload and the diversity of the species and diseases that I see as an ophthalmologist here is pertinent to the research I am undertaking. 

6. What about teaching veterinary ophthalmology excites you?

Students often seem intimidated by eyes. The eye has its own anatomy and physiology. Once you understand that, you can understand the specific diseases and clinical signs associated with ophthalmic conditions and so I am excited to dispel some of those apprehensions and make learning about ophthalmology exciting for students.

The VMC offers a vibrant environment in which to teach students. Key points they are able to take away from clinical rotations with me are how to make the most of their ophthalmic exam, cases they should feel comfortable treating in general practice, and cases that would benefit from referral to an ophthalmologist. I feel the students are all thirsty for ophthalmology — on my first rotation last week, they were engaged and asking so many questions. I am also starting to teach the third year students in the spring. That will be a more didactic style of teaching and will give them the framework they need to start their clinical rotation on ophthalmology, as well as prepare them for veterinary practice after they have graduated.