Rogelio Villarreal
Director General
Centro de Oftalmología Monterrey
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View from the Top

Pioneering Eye Surgery in "City of Sight"

Wed, 09/07/2016 - 11:39

Q: You were the first surgeon in the world to perform farsightedness laser surgery. How has this helped change the world’s perception of Mexican physicians?

A: Our Monterrey operations began in 1992. Centro de Oftalmología Monterrey was the first center where ocular laser surgery took place for both eyestrain and farsightedness conditions. Soon after, the city’s research in laser performance exponentially increased, creating a booming interest in eyesight correction. Laser precision far exceeds previous surgical techniques, guaranteeing greater success. Thereafter, we continued our efforts in short sightedness and astigmatism correction. Monterrey’s involvement in the ophthalmological laser surgery field was so great the city imparted the first courses, gathering surgeons from all over the world. In addition, we received the support of the industry’s largest medical device manufacturers, further positioning the city as a hub for eye care. Multiple ophthalmologists have come out of Monterrey, treating patients around the world. As a result, the city has positioned itself as the “city of sight”, becoming a pioneer in eyesight correction procedures. We also pioneered the cataract correction field with the implementation of bifocal intraocular lenses.

Q: How did you foresee the opportunity of implementing laser surgery in eye correction?

A: Laser surgery can take as little as 20 seconds, contrary to the hour-long procedure that traditional methods take. We understood that if we wanted to quickly bring back the eyesight of our population, laser surgery was the future. Mexico’s eyesight health is lagging, resulting in over 1 million people with poor or nonexistent vision. Between 60,000 to 80,000 people join them on a yearly basis. Monterrey has always had top quality human capital in the medical field but technological advancements were still lacking. Once we secured the latter, the city saw a significant increment of patients. We have received multiple patients in our facilities, whether foreign or domestic. Most international patients come from the US, considering their closeness and connectivity to the city. We have seen full charter flights with patients arriving to Monterrey, going back to their country of origin only hours after their procedure.

Q: What is the price range of eye laser surgical procedures?

A: This type of surgery has greatly evolved since 1992. Medical advances happen almost on a daily basis and so does the technology that follows. Centro de Oftalmología Monterrey is equipped with the latest medical devices, which has changed our procedural approach. We now engage in minimally invasive surgery called, allowing us to correct the issue with little damage to the eye structure. Our prices range from US$1,000-4,000 for both eyes, depending on the condition we are treating. Even though this type of treatment is yet to be certified by the FDA, the COFEPRIS has already accredited it. Under these circumstances, we are attracting greater volumes of foreign patients.

Q: How have eyesight conditions evolved throughout the years and which ailments affect Mexico’s population the most?

A: Society has become more attached to cellphones and computers, which has a greater impact on sight. Even though we lack the scientific proof to allege this, ophthalmologists around the world concur that spending so much time in front of a screen impacts eyesight. This has resulted in an ailment increase, especially in children. Scientists in Japan and China have also proven that keeping children in a classroom for long hours can have a serious impact on eye health. This has led to different teaching models, where stepping outside and seeing nature helps

reduce nearsightedness rates. Under these circumstances, we are expecting an increase in ophthalmological care. We must also take into consideration society’s life expectancy. Since people live longer, older members of society have natural sight regression. For them to become active members of society, our farsightedness, cataract and eyestrain solutions are crucial.

Q: Centro de Oftalmología Monterrey is working with stem cells to develop advanced solutions in the eye care field. What has resulted from your efforts?

A: We have worked with adult stem cells alongside the University of Monterrey (UDEM) and its re-engineering laboratory. These are stem cells with specific applications and are directed to the organic tissue where they originated from. However, adult stem cells can now be programed and used for other purposes. We are looking to create treatments for eye conditions with no solution.

We are still in the earliest stages of our research, understandinghowtomanipulateanddirectthecellsat will. We also want to limit the scope of ailments to treat, concentrating on retinitis pigmentosa (RP), glaucoma and corneal opacities. With the help of stem cells, we will be able to create artificial corneas, eliminating the need to wait for donors. Finally, we can also administer stem cells in all laser surgical procedures.

There is a direct correlation between stem cells and the time of recovery from laser surgeries. Nowadays, surgery patients can go back to their daily activities after 24 hours, but the time will be reduced to one hour with the use of stem cells. We are yet to define the concise date when our developments will be ready, as some unexpected events arose. For instance, we did not foresee the extent of our investment, which has put a toll on our development times. Be that as it may, we are working to present these solutions to the general public in a four-year timespan.

Q: For the time being, the Fundación Ojos para México is one of your biggest projects. What results have you obtained and how is it helping your community?

A: Ophthalmologists are becoming more aware of the problems that presently overwhelm Mexican society. There is a large population segment that is unprotected, as the government’s public healthcare system cannot cover them all. We must find alternative means of treatment that can ensure their health. For this reason, the Fundación Ojos para México came to life.

We began our project in 2006, treating patients below the poverty line completely free of charge. We are an altruistic organization that wants to bring health back to our communities, receiving funding from sponsors. I personally assembled a team of ophthalmologists that had the same concerns as I did, bringing the latest technology and procedures to marginalized communities and making it available to them. We do not only treat patients from Nuevo Leon, as families from the whole country come to us, including from Chiapas and Oaxaca.

Cataract and diabetic retinopathy conditions impact Mexico’s society the most and although we offer treatments, we mostly focus on educating and creating a preventive culture. Our most recent study shows a 5 percent glaucoma prevalence in people over 40 years of age. It is important to mention that symptomless glaucoma, where the eye pressure is not affected, can strike patients.

As such, the disease advances to much more complicated stages that need larger investments. With the help of UDEM, Fundación Ojos para México has developed new screening mechanisms for glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. If we can detect the condition in its earliest stages, the incurred costs will plummet for patients and the public healthcare system will benefit from it.

Finally, Fundación Ojos para México has international alliances, expanding its sphere of influence to other regions in the world. For instance, the Barzilai Medical Center in Israel and Spain’s Barraquer Ophthalmology Center have allowed us to further our field of knowledge, understanding ophthalmological conditions that affect the global population.