SAN BRUNO − When he was in college, Dr. Thomas Aller first considered a career in animal research, but he eventually shifted his focus toward a more human-centered vocation. “I was studying animal behavior at UC Berkeley—I figured I was going to teach Koko the gorilla to write Shakespeare or something useful like that,” he laughs. “However, I ultimately concluded that a life of doing research wasn’t for me, and I went into optometry instead.”
Today, after more than 31 years practicing in the optometry field, Dr. Aller says his favorite part of his job is, ironically, research. “I’ve spent most of my career researching the preventative treatment of nearsightedness in young children, which has become a worldwide epidemic in recent years. It’s also been long regarded as a strictly genetic and incurable condition, which I took as a challenge.”
Originally from Berkeley, Dr. Aller now resides in the neighboring town of Albany with his wife, Virginia. “This is where I grew up, so it just feels like home,” he says. “Not only are the people and weather great, we also have good schools and a lot of good restaurants, so it’s an ideal place to live and raise a family.”
Outside of work, Dr. Aller engages in a variety of physical and cerebral activities. “I play handball competitively and enjoy skiing and hiking as well,” he says. “I’m also an inventor, and I’m always working on at least one project. It’s a pretty arduous process to take an idea from conception to being provable and then actually getting it patented and developed, but it’s something I really enjoy.” When he’s not hitting a ball or tinkering in his lab, Dr. Aller keeps up with his and Virginia’s three grown children: Kimberly, Brian and Theresa.
In his life and career, Dr. Aller espouses the importance of persevering in the face of adversity. “My work in curing childhood nearsightedness has been met with a fair amount of resistance because it goes against the previously held notion that it’s incurable,” he explains. “Any time you challenge a conventional view, it goes through cycles of denial and even hostility before finally reaching the point of acceptance. I’ve seen been plenty of the former, but it’s also encouraging to see more and more eye doctors starting to treat nearsightedness as a preventable condition.”
When asked the first thing he’d do if could retire tomorrow, Dr. Aller says he’d spend more time inventing. “I’d probably take out my Top Ten list of invention ideas and get serious about working on them. A colleague of mine recently retired from optometry and is now running an ‘invention incubator,’ which sounds like something I’d like to be a part of.”