Four Distinguished and Faculty Professorships were conferred at the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC) and Singapore Eye Research Institute (SERI) in October this year. SNEC and SERI are part of the SingHealth Duke-NUS Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences Academic Clinical Programme (EYE ACP). These new Distinguished and Faculty Professorships are supported by a gift from the SNEC Health Research Endowment Fund, and will spearhead the EYE ACP’s efforts in leading innovative research and developing world-leading eye-care delivery methods for our patients.
How do Professorships help advance medicine?
Professorships are most prestigious faculty appointments in Academic Medicine Centres. Established under the partnership between SingHealth and Duke-NUS in Academic Medicine, Professorships nurture outstanding academic leadership in medical research and teaching to advance medical science and Medicine to benefit patients.
The Professorships augment the ACP’s strengths in research to find affordable solutions that will benefit patients and foster greater collaboration and co-development with the private sector to accelerate the translation of novel clinical applications from laboratory to patient care. The Professorships will also allow the recipients to advance and strengthen collaborations with international leaders in Ophthalmology and bring about advancements in the delivery of eye care.
This is the first of a two-part series where two inaugural recipients of the Professorship share how this will help them further research and education.
Professor Jodhbir Mehta, SNEC Professorship in Clinical Innovation in Ophthalmology
Professor Mehta is the Head and Senior Consultant of the Corneal and External Eye Disease Department at SNEC, and the Deputy Executive Director of SERI. He is also a full tenured Professor with Duke-NUS Medical School. Professor Mehta plays a key role in the translational clinical research programme on innovations in tissue engineering of selective corneal cell layers for corneal transplantation. His efforts have generated 15 patents, of which six have been licensed to companies, demonstrating the translational nature of his work and clinical innovation. Professor Mehta is also highly regarded in the areas of corneal transplantation and laser wound healing.
Q: What are your research and innovation focus areas?
One of my focus areas is on innovations in tissue engineering of selective corneal cell layers for corneal transplantation. A project I am working on is exploring the use of endothelial cell therapy and regenerative therapy as an alternative to surgery or corneal transplantation. These minimally invasive procedures of doing cell injections instead of surgical transplants can help simplify the recovery journey for a patient who might have to go for a conventional corneal transplant.
Q: Why is it important to focus in this area?
Cornea transplantation is the most common transplanted tissue in the body. 80% of what we learn is from our sight, so having a clear cornea is important to be able to achieve this. Despite the excellent results achieved with modern day cadaver corneal transplantation, there are many people in the world who do not have access to corneal tissue.
Q: How will your work benefit Singapore and the region?
Currently, around 5% of Singaporeans suffer from poor vision due to a diseased or cloudy cornea. And this number is only set to increase as our ageing population grows. Even-though we have an excellent eye bank in Singapore, we still rely on the US to supply us 60% of the tissue for patients undergoing corneal transplantation. With this disruptive technology we have the potential to be self-sufficient.
Using endothelial cell therapy and endothelial regenerative therapy we can reduce the risk and complications that come with conventional cadaver surgery. This is especially helpful for elderly patients who then would not need to undergo prolonged anaesthesia for surgery. In addition, once established here, we can potentially spread this technology to the region and also further afield. This would enable many countries in the region who do not have good eye banks to benefit from this technology.
Q: What motivates you to do your research?
The desire to improve the lives of the patients we see each day. Corneal transplantation has changed tremendously over the last 20 years. The outcomes patients are having now were unthinkable in the past. A lot of this has been down to research which has moved this field by improving outcomes from the lab to patients. One example of this was the invention of a device we developed for corneal transplantation. The surgical device improved corneal transplantation survival for our patients and it has eventually been used more than 30,000 times in 31 countries. I couldn’t have been happier knowing that something that I was part of had such an impact to patients not only in Singapore but globally. It is heartening to know that my work can better the lives of patients who come to us, by improving their quality of life. Status quo is not an option for our patients.
Professor Chee Soon Phaik, SNEC Professorship in Clinical Education in Ophthalmology
Professor Chee Soon Phaik, Senior Consultant, Cataract and Comprehensive Ophthalmology Department, Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC), is a pioneering senior clinician, academic ophthalmologist, and a “teaching legend” who has taught almost every single ophthalmologist in SNEC over the past three decades. She is widely considered and consistently nominated as one of the ‘best teachers’ of cataract surgery.
Q: How will this Professorship advance clinical education?
Professor Arthur Lim, Singapore’s father of Ophthalmology, was a strong believer that teaching and education are integral, and should remain perennial in cultivating the next generation of ophthalmologists, and eye care professionals across the spectrum of eye care delivery, not just in Singapore, but also in the region. With this Professorship, I hope to continue Prof Lim’s legacy and vision of ensuring that Singapore and the surrounding region remain at the forefront of Ophthalmology training and educational activities. Beyond teaching, I would also like to focus on education research, innovation and faculty development, whereby we share educational best practices and provide faculty with the opportunity to learn new pedagogies that will benefit them and their students.
Q: Why is this important?
In our field, we are placed in a unique position to bring vision to thousands of patients and positively impact their lives over the course of our careers. So whether you are an ophthalmologist, a researcher or other eye care professional or support staff like a nurse or allied health professional, it is imperative that you are well-trained in the latest techniques and relevant skill sets such as safety and ethical practice. A good foundation coupled with the continual upskilling of practitioners across the spectrum of vision care will ensure that we provide the best treatment and care for our patients, leading to even better outcomes.
Q: What do you hope to achieve as a recipient of this Professorship?
My area of specialty is cataract surgery, it’s the most common surgical procedure done globally. So this Professorship will help me to enhance the training and research efforts of the Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences Academic Clinical Programme (EYE ACP), SNEC and SERI in the area of complicated cataract surgery. A key focus of mine is also to nurture and support ophthalmologists, researchers and other eye care professionals and support staff with the relevant resources to assist them in their teaching and mentorship roles. Hopefully these can lead to the establishment of fellowships and postgraduate teaching and mentoring programmes at SNEC. I’m truly honoured to be conferred with this Professorship and am excited for what lies ahead.
Q: What is your vision for Ophthalmology Education here in Singapore?
My vision is for Singapore to be a global centre of excellence for eye education and research, allowing us not only to nurture Ophthalmology professionals and teachers locally, but also to share our expertise on a global scale and move the field of Ophthalmology to new heights.
Why Make a Gift Towards Professorships?
To be one of the top Academic Medical Centres in the region, on par with the very best in the world, we need to attract and retain the best talent. Endowed distinguished Professorships make this possible. Your gift ensures the brightest minds are convened to focus on finding solutions to specific medical issues, translating discoveries to cures and spur advances in these areas.
Click here to read part 2 of this article series.