Alumni Profiles Series: Lucinda Camras
Lucinda Camras, Ph.D., received her degree in Biomedical Engineering in 2013. She is currently the chief scientific officer at Camras Vision, a start-up medical device company she co-founded during her time at Duke.
How did you become interested in your field of research?
My father Carl Camras influenced me to start working in a glaucoma research lab at 16 years old. He was a leader in the field of glaucoma treatments and developed the most widely used drug to treat glaucoma, Xalatan. When I decided to go to college at Northwestern University for biomedical engineering, I initially wanted to depart from glaucoma research and study the development of prosthetic limbs. After learning more about the challenges in generating prosthetics that were truly translational, I returned to glaucoma research in my sophomore year, working for Mark Johnson, Ph.D. That summer, I helped my father design a shunt device to provide personalized pressure control for the treatment of glaucoma, and this is the device that I am still working on today.
What professional or career plans did you have in mind as you were completing your graduate degree?
I worked with two small start-up companies, ACE Vision Group and Ivantis (formerly Denali Medical), while continuing to pursue research after completing my undergraduate degree, but when my father became ill, I decided to go back to school to get my Ph.D., apply for start-up funding, and start my own company to properly market the device we had invented. Duke has around 15 faculty working on glaucoma research, making it one of the largest representations in the field and an ideal location to pursue development of my shunt device. I pitched my device idea to Fan Yuan, Ph.D. in the Biomedical Engineering Department, and he accepted me into his research lab to continue my work. However, upon arrival, due to the fact that the intellectual property rights were not owned by Duke, I was advised to complete my Ph.D. research on a different topic, and keep my work on the device completely separate. While at Duke, I was able to make some very valuable connections. I worked with Drs. Bruce Klitzman, Sanjay Asrani, and Rand Allingham, who had developed a modification on an existing shunt, and together we applied for SBIR/STTR NIH and NSF grants to fund the further development of my device. Also, I met Robert Alfaro, a business student, through the Program for Entrepreneurs (P4E) course at Duke. Together, we co-founded our start-up company named to honor my father: Camras Vision.
What has your career path looked like since you graduated?
I graduated in 2013 with my Ph.D. and went on to work full-time at my start-up company as the chief scientific officer, with Robert Alfaro, my co-founder, as the president. We met Ray Krauss, who had been planning to retire from his successful career in the medical device industry, but decided to join Camras Vision as the CEO. His experience in both ophthalmology and management has made him very good at getting people excited about our device. We have also employed interns from Duke in the past couple of years, one of whom has stayed on as an engineer.
Currently, Camras Vision has 4 employees, including myself. We are located at the First Flight Venture Center in RTP, and we have been working on raising funds to bring our device to human trials. Currently, we have raised over $0.5M in SBIR/STTR grants and are in the midst of completing our seed round.
What is your favorite thing about what you do? What has been the most surprising aspect of your career?
I really enjoy the autonomy of working at a startup. The environment is very relaxed and you can work flexible hours. I enjoy being independent in my work. In fact, my experience working at a startup has not been that different from being a Ph.D. student. I am passionate about creating something to truly help people, and it is a cause worth fighting for.
Something that surprised me moving from the academic to the business side was how the team, the market, and business plan were just as, if not more, important than the impact of the technology when raising capital. Investors must feel confident that the right infrastructure and people are in place, regardless of how exciting the technology is, before they will feel comfortable writing a check.
Do you have any advice you would like to share with current graduate students at Duke?
I have learned throughout my career that you really need to be your own champion and commit to your ideas. I also have learned that it’s very important to keep an ethical mind. Don’t cut corners when it comes to producing a safe device. Also, be honest with your business partners, because business is all about relationships. It can be more about who you are working with than the contract you sign.
This experience leads me to give the following advice: your network is so important. Meeting people and creating relationships is a shockingly large part of getting a job. You will be surprised how eager people are to help if you are willing to take the time to build a relationship. You may have to change jobs–your first job will likely not be your last–so maintaining a good network is crucial to your success.
what is one of your favorite memories of Duke?
One of my favorite memories is attending weekly meetings held by Dr. David Epstein, the chair of the ophthalmology department at Duke until his passing in 2014. The meetings were held Monday evenings and consisted of 3-8 people including residents, glaucoma fellows, and researchers. There were case studies to discuss, but it was mostly a time to just chat about glaucoma, get advice, and soak up some of Dr. Epstein’s wisdom. These meetings gave us a chance to get to know the people behind the science and hear their stories. It was a great thing to be a part of and I will be forever grateful for the time I was able to spend with Dr. Epstein.
Ph.D. Candidate, Biomedical Engineering
Katheryn studies the role of the protein vinculin in mediating cellular response to physical cues under the direction of Brenton Hoffman, Ph.D. in the Cell and Molecular Mechanobiology Lab.