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Spring/Summer 2010

A Partnership of Global Proportions

New agreement promises to speed breakthroughs in ophthalmology to people around the world

Date: May 15, 2010


KKESH building
The King Khaled Eye Specialist Hospital in Riyadh logs more than 10,600 surgical procedures annually.

It’s a long-distance relationship of the grandest scale.

More than 6,700 miles separate the Wilmer Eye Institute and the King Khaled Eye Specialist Hospital (KKESH) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Yet the two institutions—both world leaders in the treatment and cure of eye disease—are confident that their newfound partnership will bridge the distance and advance ophthalmology to benefit the world.  

The partnership, which focuses on collaborative research, education, and patient care, extends for a five-year period and is renewable for additional five-year periods.

“Together we can do what we couldn’t alone,” says Wilmer Director Peter McDonnell. “In a world where cultures often clash, what better things could these two institutions share than our combined medical knowledge and working together to cure eye disease?”

KKESH is the largest eye hospital in Saudi Arabia and one of the top-ranked medical facilities in the Middle East. Operated by the Ministry of Health of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the hospital was spearheaded by the late King Khaled, who recognized the need for his country to have a comprehensive eye care treatment and research center. Prior to KKESH’s opening in 1982, Saudi patients traveled to Europe and the United States for eye care.

It was KKESH’s first medical director, David Paton ’56, who initiated discussion of an affiliation with Wilmer. Paton did his residency at Wilmer and went on to become a leader in international ophthalmology.

The KKESH team—which includes on its staff 50 board-certified physicians—brings solid expertise in providing superior patient care in a high-volume setting. KKESH annually logs more than 100,000 outpatient visits, 26,000 emergency room visits, and more than 10,600 surgical procedures. Wilmer offers its strong academic perspective, along with a track record of excellence in designing clinical trials and training future leaders in ophthalmology.

There will be an exchange of ideas and information between the two institutions on multiple levels, with several Wilmer faculty members working at KKESH for extended periods—treating patients, teaching, and conducting research. With financial support from the Saudi Government, joint research activities will focus on developing treatments for blinding eye diseases that afflict patients living in both countries and around the world.

The sheer volume of some eye disorders in Saudi Arabia offers an advantage over available data in the United States. “KKESH has two, three, sometimes four times as many patients with eye disease than we have at Wilmer,” McDonnell points out. Because 26 percent or more of the population in Saudi Arabia suffers from diabetes, eye diseases like diabetic retinopathy are a logical focus for collaborative research. “We can do studies much more quickly than if we could only enroll patients from our own country in clinical trials,” he explains. Marlene England