Ophthalmic Outreach

Teaching consortium in Saudi Arabia inspires intercontinental research

U.S. ophthalmologists share knowledge on cutting-edge technologies and foster international collaboration.
Robert Ritch, MD, FACS
Robert Ritch

Ten ophthalmologists and vision scientists from across the United States presented a broad program covering the latest innovations in research and treatment to roughly 100 Saudi ophthalmologists, residents and fellows during a 2-day program as a part of the International Teaching Consortium.

The International Teaching Consortium, an organization initiated by Robert Ritch, MD, FACS, focuses on sharing research advancements and initiating collaboration between the United States and developing nations.

Dr. Ritch said that the meeting in January at the King Fahd Center for Medical Research in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, replicated teaching missions that have been conducted all over Southeast Asia for the past 25 years, and more recently in other countries such as Kazakhstan and Peru, drawing from a seasoned pool of volunteers.

Dr. Ritch said the aim was to introduce Saudi ophthalmologists to emerging U.S. research and to “cement the beginning of the establishment of the liaison” between medical professionals and vision researchers in the two countries.

The meeting was organized in conjunction with the Middle East Africa Council of Ophthalmology (MEACO), which funded the U.S. ophthalmologists’ accommodations in Saudi Arabia and handled numerous logistics of the event.

“This is part of MEACO’s mission of bringing internationally recognized experts to the region to help exchange experiences and disseminate knowledge,” Abdulaziz Al-Rajhi, MD, the president of MEACO, said in an email interview with Ocular Surgery News.

Initiating an exchange

According to Dr. Ritch, the meeting in Jeddah differed from past meetings because it focused predominantly on research initiatives.

“In other countries, on the second day some of us would see patients, do demonstration surgery or have small group discussions,” he said.

The focal point of this program was joint research efforts, a primary interest of the Saudi hosts. Moreover, past missions were concerned with a wide variety of traditional topics in ophthalmology, such as retina, glaucoma and cornea research, but Dr. Ritch and his volunteer staff are moving toward highlighting cutting-edge technologies that are pertinent to an individual field.

Terete Borrás, PhD, one of the U.S. vision scientists in attendance, said that the presentations centered on potential treatment options for glaucoma and that the three main areas of technological expertise were gene therapy, nanotechnology and stem cell research.

“They want to start investing more in research, and they have started by building nice facilities with state-of-the-art equipment. … My general feeling is that it is a beautiful space with amazing equipment and not yet many research scientists — just the opposite of here,” she said.

Dr. Borrás emphasized that encountering a different research environment was a significant learning experience for her and that she was pleased with the interactive nature of the program; every presentation was followed by questions and comments from the audience.

Plans for the future

“It was a great start that triggered a lot of interest in areas of research like stem cell and the use of nanotechnology in ophthalmology,” Dr. Al-Rajhi said. “As a result, we are now looking at areas of collaboration between several research centers and some of the experts that were at the meeting.”

In addition to research partnerships and potential projects to occupy the region’s new research facilities, an exchange program is being considered by the U.S. and Saudi ophthalmologists who attended the teaching consortium meeting.

“We were approached by a number of young ophthalmologists, residents and recent graduates who would like to come study in the U.S. either as observers, International Council of Ophthalmology fellows or to do research fellowships,” Dr. Ritch said.

Dr. Borrás received emails afterward, as well as in-person commentary at the end of the meeting, conveying satisfaction with all aspects of the event. Dr. Ritch said that another similar meeting in Saudi Arabia is being considered for the future.

“We hope that this will inspire other professionals globally to assist other countries in this development,” Dr. Al-Rajhi said. – by Michelle Pagnani

  • Abdulaziz Al-Rajhi, MD, can be reached at P.O.B. 7947, Riyadh 11472, Saudi Arabia; 96614661085; email: dralrajhi@meaco.org.
  • Terete Borrás, PhD, can be reached at the Department of Ophthalmology, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, 4109 Neuroscience Res. Bldg., Campus Box 7041, 103 Mason Farm Road, Chapel Hill, NC 27599; 919-843-0184; email: tborras@med.unc.edu.
  • Robert Ritch, MD, FACS, can be reached at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, 310 East 14th St., New York, NY 10003; 212-673-5140; email: ritchmd@earthlink.net.
  • Disclosures: No products or companies are mentioned that would require financial disclosure.
Robert Ritch, MD, FACS
Robert Ritch

Ten ophthalmologists and vision scientists from across the United States presented a broad program covering the latest innovations in research and treatment to roughly 100 Saudi ophthalmologists, residents and fellows during a 2-day program as a part of the International Teaching Consortium.

The International Teaching Consortium, an organization initiated by Robert Ritch, MD, FACS, focuses on sharing research advancements and initiating collaboration between the United States and developing nations.

Dr. Ritch said that the meeting in January at the King Fahd Center for Medical Research in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, replicated teaching missions that have been conducted all over Southeast Asia for the past 25 years, and more recently in other countries such as Kazakhstan and Peru, drawing from a seasoned pool of volunteers.

Dr. Ritch said the aim was to introduce Saudi ophthalmologists to emerging U.S. research and to “cement the beginning of the establishment of the liaison” between medical professionals and vision researchers in the two countries.

The meeting was organized in conjunction with the Middle East Africa Council of Ophthalmology (MEACO), which funded the U.S. ophthalmologists’ accommodations in Saudi Arabia and handled numerous logistics of the event.

“This is part of MEACO’s mission of bringing internationally recognized experts to the region to help exchange experiences and disseminate knowledge,” Abdulaziz Al-Rajhi, MD, the president of MEACO, said in an email interview with Ocular Surgery News.

Initiating an exchange

According to Dr. Ritch, the meeting in Jeddah differed from past meetings because it focused predominantly on research initiatives.

“In other countries, on the second day some of us would see patients, do demonstration surgery or have small group discussions,” he said.

The focal point of this program was joint research efforts, a primary interest of the Saudi hosts. Moreover, past missions were concerned with a wide variety of traditional topics in ophthalmology, such as retina, glaucoma and cornea research, but Dr. Ritch and his volunteer staff are moving toward highlighting cutting-edge technologies that are pertinent to an individual field.

Terete Borrás, PhD, one of the U.S. vision scientists in attendance, said that the presentations centered on potential treatment options for glaucoma and that the three main areas of technological expertise were gene therapy, nanotechnology and stem cell research.

“They want to start investing more in research, and they have started by building nice facilities with state-of-the-art equipment. … My general feeling is that it is a beautiful space with amazing equipment and not yet many research scientists — just the opposite of here,” she said.

Dr. Borrás emphasized that encountering a different research environment was a significant learning experience for her and that she was pleased with the interactive nature of the program; every presentation was followed by questions and comments from the audience.

Plans for the future

“It was a great start that triggered a lot of interest in areas of research like stem cell and the use of nanotechnology in ophthalmology,” Dr. Al-Rajhi said. “As a result, we are now looking at areas of collaboration between several research centers and some of the experts that were at the meeting.”

In addition to research partnerships and potential projects to occupy the region’s new research facilities, an exchange program is being considered by the U.S. and Saudi ophthalmologists who attended the teaching consortium meeting.

“We were approached by a number of young ophthalmologists, residents and recent graduates who would like to come study in the U.S. either as observers, International Council of Ophthalmology fellows or to do research fellowships,” Dr. Ritch said.

Dr. Borrás received emails afterward, as well as in-person commentary at the end of the meeting, conveying satisfaction with all aspects of the event. Dr. Ritch said that another similar meeting in Saudi Arabia is being considered for the future.

“We hope that this will inspire other professionals globally to assist other countries in this development,” Dr. Al-Rajhi said. – by Michelle Pagnani

  • Abdulaziz Al-Rajhi, MD, can be reached at P.O.B. 7947, Riyadh 11472, Saudi Arabia; 96614661085; email: dralrajhi@meaco.org.
  • Terete Borrás, PhD, can be reached at the Department of Ophthalmology, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, 4109 Neuroscience Res. Bldg., Campus Box 7041, 103 Mason Farm Road, Chapel Hill, NC 27599; 919-843-0184; email: tborras@med.unc.edu.
  • Robert Ritch, MD, FACS, can be reached at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, 310 East 14th St., New York, NY 10003; 212-673-5140; email: ritchmd@earthlink.net.
  • Disclosures: No products or companies are mentioned that would require financial disclosure.