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Meet the Faculty

Professor Jodhbir Mehta is the Executive Director, SERI; Deputy Medical Director (Research) SNEC; and Academic Vice Chair (Research), SingHealth Duke-NUS Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences Academic Clinical Programme (EYE ACP). He also serves as Head and Senior Consultant, Corneal & External Eye Disease Department, SNEC, and is concurrently Head, Tissue Engineering and Cell Therapy Group, SERI. He is a tenured Distinguished Professor at the Duke-NUS Medical School and holds adjunct professorship appointments at the National Technological University.

1.  Why did you enter the field of Cornea research/Ophthalmology? What attracted you to it?  
Ophthalmology is one of the few medical disciplines that combines medical and surgical disciplines. When I was a junior doctor, I liked both medicine and surgery, but I didn’t enjoy the long medical ward rounds, and preferred more intricate surgery to general surgery. As an ophthalmologist, you also have the opportunity to improve a person’s quality of life, which is really rewarding. Furthermore, ophthalmology has a large research component, and it is also one of the fastest-moving areas in medicine, with several breakthroughs occurring.

2.  What is the vision you have for SERI in the future?
Our strength is translational research. SERI has grown significantly from 70 to a faculty of 250 with a large expansion in teams and departments. This has enabled us to increase not only the depth but also the breadth of our research capabilities. To make a difference, we need to translate our work into better outcomes for patients and ultimately for the general population.

3.  What has been the most significant breakthrough/advancement in your field during your career?
There have been a few advances, such as the introduction of femtosecond lasers in clinical practice in the late 2007 that impacted our work, and the progress made in corneal transplantation and more recently cell therapy.

4.  As a leading expert in Cornea research, what do you think are your most significant contributions in this field?
Our work on lasers in animal models and the Proof of Concept/Proof of Value (POC/POV) of lenticule implantation have been extremely ground-breaking and are now being used in clinical practice.

Our publications on corneal transplantation have propelled our belief (and those of others) in selective lamellar transplantation and have changed the outcomes for our patients in Singapore as well as internationally. This has been supported through the development of the Endoglide device for DSAEK and, more recently, for DMEK. In order to convince disbelievers, strong evidence must be provided, not only in publications, but also in lectures and talks.

Patients with corneal transplant have shown success, with minimal chances of rejection. Our newer regenerative approaches such as selective endothelial removal (SER) and cell therapy will make an enormous contribution to the field. We have done a lot, but some exciting things are on the horizon.

5.  What aspects do you enjoy about being a clinician-scientist? Do you have any advice for young clinician-scientists?
It’s the ability to identify problems in our patients in the clinic, try to solve them at a basic level and then put those solutions into practice in the clinic. As a clinician-scientist (CS), one is in a unique position to do this.

I would also advise them that this is not an easy job, and it requires both perseverance and commitment.

6.  What are some of the bottlenecks you see in translating clinical research from bench to bedside? How can we make it easier?
I think there are a lot of bottlenecks. The translation of studies from animal to humans is always a challenge, even when using non-human primates (NHP) models. Dealing with regulatory authorities can be difficult, especially in Singapore, and it may be easier in other countries. For example, Australia does not require GMP for Phase 1 trials. Getting funding for early phase projects can be difficult because they are often costly. It is imperative that we remain globally competitive and regulatory authorities must help us ensure that. We aren’t competing with local institutes, we are competing on a global arena with the top ophthalmic academic institutes in world. There is no point being the best in a small pond.

7.  How has your journey been so far?
This journey has been exciting and full of memories. While it is difficult to predict the future, it is important to enjoy the present and take advantage of opportunities that may come your way. Talent is important, but it takes hard work to achieve true fulfilment. A little luck never hurts, but you have to be in the right place at the right moment to receive it.

8.  You are an internationally renowned clinician-scientist, but what is the one thing that you would like to be remembered for?
In both research and clinical settings, mentoring fellows and passing on skills and knowledge has been a great way for me to give back. Also, I like to think that I have delivered some interesting, educational, and entertaining lectures.

9.  Who are your mentors and role models?
I am fortunate to have had many influential mentors and role models throughout my life – Michael Sharr my first boss in Neurosurgery; the faculty I was working with at Moorfields – Geoff Rose, Gill Adams, John Lee, Peter Hamilton, Lydon Da Cruz; John Dart and Bruce Allan in the Cornea field; in Singapore – Roger Beuerman and Donald Tan; outside Singapore – Paul Kauffman, Jim Chodosh, Shigeru Kinoshita; as well as outside of ophthalmology – Viv Richards, Michael Jordan, Bill Shankley and Mahatma Gandhi.

10.  What do you like to do for fun?
I enjoy road biking, skiing and exploring new places outside of work.

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