Innovative Eversight-University of Michigan fellowship program reshaping the future of medicine and eye banking

When ophthalmology resident Meraf Wolle, M.D., stepped into the operating room, the tissue needed for her patient’s transplant surgery seemed to always just appear — packaged, prepped and ready.

“A magical box,” Dr. Wolle said.

But after completing a one-year joint cornea fellowship with Eversight Michigan, a local nonprofit eye bank, and the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center, she gained an entirely new perspective about this “magical” human gift.

Dr. Wolle was the second cornea fellow to participate in a program aimed at bridging the gap between ophthalmologists and eye banks. As part of the fellowship, the clinician spends one day a week at the eye bank, learning about tissue recovery, evaluation and specialized preparation methods, while also performing research to improve procedures.

In the past, physicians were closely connected with their local eye bank to help supervise and train technicians preparing corneas for transplantation. But with the evolution of standardized tissue recovery and processing practices, technicians began working independently. Physicians were less involved in eye banking operations as a result and had fewer opportunities to experience the full scope of donation.

“Young corneal surgeons know what tissue characteristics they need for a particular type of surgery,” said Kevin Ross, Eversight President and CEO. “But they don’t necessarily know the processes that make this gift possible. That’s what we’re seeking to change.”

The University of Michigan and Maria Woodward, M.D., Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Science at the Kellogg Eye Center, are working toward the same goal. Dr. Woodward said the fellowship developed out of a need to broaden new surgeons’ skills and create a mutually beneficial relationship with the organization that makes donation, and ultimately transplantation, possible.

Another major priority of the fellowship is to foster research relevant to corneal transplantation. The fellows find a balance between concentrating on surgical techniques and utilizing the combined resources of Eversight and the University of Michigan to delve into topics to strengthen best practices across the board.

During Dr. Wolle’s fellowship, she authored three papers and presented at the 2016 annual meetings for the Eye Bank Association of America and the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology. She explored how to streamline a surgical procedure called Descemet Membrane Endothelial Keratoplasty and which donor cornea characteristics and associations can boost the number of tissues suitable for transplantation.

“As a clinician, you ask for corneal tissue and it appears, but you have no idea how it is donated or what goes into the preparation,” Dr. Wolle said. “But I think we have to understand eye banking. It’s our responsibility.”

As Dr. Wolle takes her experience with her to her new role as an Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, the next cornea fellow, Purak Parikh, M.D., is starting. Dr. Parikh completed his residency at the University of Pennsylvania’s Scheie Eye Institute and earned his Doctor of Medicine from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College.

Dr. Parikh, his Kellogg mentors and Eversight will use the coming weeks and months to identify innovative research opportunities. But one thing is already certain. After finishing an orientation with Eversight, Dr. Parikh is beginning to learn more about the “magical box,” and he now has the chance to make an immediate difference in how both sides work together to give the gift of sight.

“There aren’t other fellowships in any field of ophthalmology that work so closely with an organization such as Eversight,” Dr. Parikh said. “Having that additional support from a place where everyone is clearly invested and energetic about what they’re doing is great.”

Cornea Fellow Spotlight: Purak Parikh, M.D.

Purak Parikh, M.D., is the newest cornea fellow sponsored by Eversight in partnership with the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center. This unique clinical fellowship provides an opportunity for a clinician to become familiar with eye banking practices and conduct research while gaining surgical experience.

Dr. Parikh will study the latest techniques in corneal transplantation while seeking ways to improve surgical outcomes for patients. Additionally, Dr. Parikh will work closely with Eversight and identify areas related to tissue recovery, evaluation and specialized preparation methods to improve.

Prior to his work with Eversight, Dr. Parikh completed his residency at the University of Pennsylvania’s Scheie Eye Institute and earned his Doctor of Medicine from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College.