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 MEACOs 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
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
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.
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 regions new research facilities, an exchange program is being
considered by the U.S. and Saudi ophthalmologists who attended the teaching
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: firstname.lastname@example.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: email@example.com.
- 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:
- Disclosures: No products or companies are mentioned that would
require financial disclosure.