What is your background and how did you come to continue your research at SSI?
I was diagnosed with amblyopia at the age of 8. After going through strict eye bandaging therapy on the affected eye, my eyesight improved within a year. This experience inspired me to study medicine with a deep interest in ophthalmology and the science of vision. I moved from my native Colombia to Australia and after completing a Masters in International Public Health, I pursued a Masters in Research at SSI under the supervision of Prof. Stephanie Watson in 2014 which I converted to a PhD in 2016.
What is your area of research?
My research with the Corneal Research Group focuses on the epidemiology of corneal infections. The cornea is the transparent layer in front of the eye. We have also established a surveillance program for antimicrobial resistance in bacterial corneal infections and developed treatment guidelines for bacterial corneal infections and herpes simplex virus. Over the past year, I have also started a project to train optometrists and ophthalmologists in ocular stem cell therapies and, more recently, another project to expand a dry eye registry to monitor clinical outcomes of ocular stem cell therapies. patients.
What inspired you to create the Sydney Eye Podcast?
During my PhD, I came across articles reporting that 30-45% of patients with eye conditions do not receive care and 20-25% receive unnecessary or potentially dangerous care. This data struck me as I developed treatment guidelines for corneal herpes simplex virus infection in response to inconsistent antiviral therapy prescribed in hospitals.
I decided to acquire science communication skills to engage successfully with the community and healthcare professionals. I believe clinical research should also focus on communicating study results and recommendations to the community and healthcare professionals. I applied for the ARVO Science Communication Fellowship 2020 after talking to former University of Sydney scholars. ARVO is the largest association of vision science and ophthalmology researchers in the world with over 10,000 members.
For the awareness activity, I created the Sydney Eye Podcast. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was unable to arrange a face-to-face meeting to share my research; therefore, I opted for a new way of communicating my message to communities with eye problems.
What issues does this podcast explore?
The podcast explores corneal diseases: what they are, what signs and symptoms patients may present with, how they are diagnosed by the clinician, potential treatments, and how to prevent them. We also provide updates on innovative technology for corneal surgery and research covering patient-reported outcomes for keratoconus and dry eye.
Who do you hope to reach with the Sydney Eye Podcast?
I hope to primarily reach patients with eye problems, or their caregivers and family members. I also hope to reach eye health professionals who can refer my podcast to their patients.
Did you encounter any challenges in creating the podcast?
Yes of course! First, I didn’t know anything about podcasting when I looked into this project. I learned how to prepare for an interview, deal with the fear of interviewing someone, edit the podcast and promote it. The biggest challenge was promoting the podcast. I thought social media and mailing lists would snowball into a larger audience. However, it took a long time to understand the algorithms on Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms to effectively reach my target listeners. It is endless but rewarding work when people tell me that they have learned something new about eye health.
What is the best feedback you have received?
I have received many positive reviews and comments. Of particular note is that someone praised the podcast for its superb attention to detail and explanation of medical terms, especially given the scope of the project. Hearing that listeners are excited to hear about future topics really inspires me!
Can you tell us about upcoming guests?
Pauline Khoo, a researcher at the Save Sight Institute, will join us in episode seven to talk about the dry eye registry. This episode expands on content from episode six, which explored dry eye and the link to breast cancer. The Dry Eye Registry is a clinician-run online data collection tool to track and analyze the results of dry eye treatments, providing benefits to patients, physicians, governments and other stakeholders. This project is led by Professor Stephanie Watson in collaboration with optometrists and ophthalmologists from Australia, New Zealand, Spain, France and Germany.
What’s the main reason people should tune into the Sydney Eye Podcast?
People should tune in to the Sydney Eye podcast to learn more about eye conditions: what they are, how to diagnose them, how to prevent them and the latest research. While these topics may seem the most relevant to people with existing eye problems, changes in eye health can happen at any time! We offer tips for preventing the most common corneal infections, which can arise from daily routines such as wearing contact lenses.