100 Years in Sight. The Hadassah Medical Organization - A Century Eye Care Innovation

Dr. Itay Chowers is a Professor of Ophthalmology, and Chairman of the Division of Ophthalmology at Hadassah Medical Organization. Dr. Chowers completed medical school at the Hadassah-Hebrew University School of Medicine with an Ophthalmology residency at Hadassah hospital. He then performed vitreoretinal and research fellowships at the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (2000- 2003). Prof. Chowers served as a chairman of the Israeli Retina Specialists Association (2013-2016) as well as the head of ophthalmology education in the Hadassah-Hebrew University School of Medicine (2011-2014). He sees patients at the retina service in Hadassah and is involved in multiple clinical trials and basic research projects focused on retinal diseases in general and age related macular degeneration.

For more about Dr. Itay Chowers and the 100th Anniversary of the School of Opthalmology

Dr. Chowers spoke at our convention this year in July, click here to listen to his speech
Prof. Chowers' Long and Meaningful Hadassah Connections
Hadassah Ophthalmology Department Research Highlighted by JAMA
Border Guards and Developing Nations: An Eye Doctor's Mission
Happy Hanukkah from Jerusalem: True Hadassah Stories of Light
Celebrating 100 Years of Excellence in Ophthalmology at Hadassah
Hadassah Ophthalmology Department: An Environment That Encourages Insight
American Journal of Ophthalmology Article Celebrates the Centennial of Hadassah Ophthalmology
A Century of Hadassah Ophthalmology
Dr. Itay Chowers Thank You Video


Melanie Cole (Host): It's the 100th anniversary of ophthalmology at the Hadassah Medical Organization. Can you imagine a century of eye care innovation? Hadassah's ophthalmologists may save your eyesight 100 years after ridding Pre-State Israel of trachoma. Today we're speaking with Professor Itay Chowers on this episode of Hadassah On Call.

Hello. My guest today is Professor Itay Chowers. He's a Professor of Ophthalmology and Chairman of the Division of Ophthalmology of the Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem, Israel. Welcome to the show, Professor. Tell us about yourself as you're new to the department. Tell us about your field and how you came to Hadassah Medical Organization.

Dr. Itay Chowers (Guest): Hi there. Well I'm actually of Hadassah from the time that I was born because I was born at Hadassah about fifty-three years ago, and I did my American school at Hadassah, also my residency, and following the residency I spent three years at the John Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore. Then I returned to the department at Hadassah and I became Chairman about half a year ago in this department which has, as you mentioned, very long and important tradition in ophthalmology.

Melanie: Professor, since you're the new Chair, what is your vision - no pun intended - but what do you see as some future goals for the department? What are you hoping to see happen?

Itay: So our department is a lot of the main departments in Israel. We have been leaders in terms of incorporating new techniques to treat patients. And our main and most important goal is to treat and provide service to people with sight diseases. To have this service as advanced and comprehensive as possible, and also is accessible as possible. So these are my first and most important goals.

In addition to that, we also aim and do my best to keep the tradition of having cutting edge research both basic translation of and also clinical research in the field of ophthalmology. These are my tasks and my plan is to pursue these in the coming years.

Melanie: Professor, it's the 100th anniversary of the Department of Ophthalmology at Hadassah Medical Organization. Tell us the story please of when Henrietta Szold and her mother visited Pre-State Israel all the way back in 1909, and they were horrified to see children with flies in their eyes. So tell us about Hadassah's first project to cure trachoma, and is it still widespread?

Itay: So yeah, that's actually a very- I would say that's a moving story, thinking about what happened here more than 100 years ago when Henrietta Szold visited Israel, and when she got here, she saw people getting blind, and perhaps especially children from trachoma, which is an eye disease which was very prevalent and still is prevalent in some parts of the Middle East, but not anymore in Israel. When she noticed these people that became blind as the result of the poor hygiene, and she knew that was prevalent here, she decided to go ahead and do something about it. She had managed to impede, be so successful, because as I mentioned before, trachoma does no longer exist in Israel. Many ways thanks to her initiative vision in sending professionals who were able to cure, to treat these patients at that time. And actually that's what started the Hadassah Organization and eventually the Medical Center.

Melanie: Wow, Professor. What a fascinating story, and although the dreaded disease is endemic in many countries in the world, you won't see it in Israel today, yes?

Itay: Yeah, that's true. We don't see it anymore. What we see today is just individuals that immigrate or make Aliyah to Israel from other countries in the Middle East. So we see the consequences of trachoma, which is the scarring of the cornea tissue, the front part of the eye, but it's not active anymore, and thank God. Today we just don't see the scene that Henrietta Szold saw more than a hundred years ago.

Melanie: Professor, based upon the fact that the hospital is one of the number one trauma centers in Israel, how much of those trauma incidents do you see in the Department of Ophthalmology? Tell us about some of your exciting eye saving surgeries.

Itay: Well unfortunately we do see quite a lot of trauma cases, and stomach trauma cases, especially in Jerusalem and especially at Hadassah because we are a main center to treat trauma in general. In many of the patients that come to trauma have multiple organs involved, maybe including the eyes, and some have just solitary eye movement. The reason for such trauma can vary, but we do see many patients that get trauma in association with an attack. If sharp nails go into their eyes, rock throwing. But also daily activities such as people that work, blacksmiths, other professions that are exposed to a high velocity iron or metal, particles moving around them. So yeah, that's something that we see actually quite a lot here at Jerusalem.

Melanie: And you even had an exciting surgery recently in December where you helped save a policeman's eyesight. Tell us a little bit about that.

Itay: Well actually that's a case that I remember quite clearly, and it started at the Nablus Gate or what we call in Israel Sha'ar Shechem, in the old city when the 2 or 3 terrorists opened fire on a group of policemen, and one of them was hit in his eye with shrapnel from that attack. And as I mentioned, it was Friday night and I remember getting the call at home. It was actually quite late at night, and when I came to the hospital, examined that specific policeman, he had actually quite severe trauma with foreign bodies that we could not identify them initially inside the eye globe. We were quite concerned that this might be a very bad trauma that might lead to severe substantial loss of vision.

In that case, we were able to operate on that policeman, and during that- and after several hours we were able to remove these shrapnels from the eye, and to close the opening that the trauma made in his eye wall. Another issue was to understand what these shrapnels are made of because we know that some specific materials can be toxic to the eye content, particularly to the retina, and if you know that this is one of these specific toxic metals, particularly iron, you have to make sure you remove every tiny bit of this from the eye.

These specific shrapnels that this policeman had were actually quite strange in their appearance, and we asked for help from the police. The police have a very sophisticated lab that can analyze such materials, and they were able within a very short time to analyze these particles and to identify them as made of tin, which is by itself not toxic to the retina.

The end of that story, of that eye and that policeman, was actually quite a happy one because after a few weeks at home he completely recovered and went back to service, and I see him now every several months just to follow him, and he's doing perfectly fine.

Melanie: Isn't that so cool? What a wonderful story, Professor. Looking forward to the next ten years in the field, what do you feel will be some of the most important areas of research as you're discussing what kinds of materials got in that policeman's eye, and you were able to save his eyesight. Where do you see this field going? What's going on that's really exciting?

Itay: Well actually the profession is very exciting. It's at the front of science and medicine, the development of new devices. Here at Hadassah in the Department of Ophthalmology, we are very fortunate to have cutting edge research in the field of stem cells, developing new techniques to cure degenerative eye diseases, and particularly age-related muscular degeneration. This is a project that is led by Professor Eyal Banin from my Department.

In addition to that, there are also projects in curing genetic eye diseases by using gene therapy and delivering a normal gene to replace a gene that is mutated or malfunctioning in eyes of patients with retinal degeneration. And the third field that is really advancing and we here at Hadassah are taking part in this exciting research is new imaging tools, a new automatic way to analyze imaging devices that can automatically interpret the condition of the retina and can enable us to screen multiple individuals very quickly, and thus identify the disease very early. So I think these three fields' kinds of gene therapy and the new imaging tools as it is will be in front of technology in the next few years.

Melanie: Wow, isn't that amazing? A hundred years later and Hadassah Medical Organization's outstanding ophthalmology department is really marking its centennial and known for groundbreaking treatment and care that may save all of our eyesights. Professor, thank you so much. Is there anything you'd like to add about the department? About Hadassah Medical Organization?

Itay: Well I think that Hadassah Medical Organization in general is a very unique institution. As you probably can assume, it's located in a very, very interesting but also exciting at sometimes and tough region of the world. We are serving a very diverse and interesting population. Both our staff and our patients come from different backgrounds, and still we manage in this unique setting to be at the front of medicine, at the front of science. So I think Hadassah in general, the medical organization is very special, and the department of ophthalmology is unique and has all these special things that characterize Hadassah, but even further because we have a very strong outreach to other developing countries. We train in our department more than a hundred ophthalmologists from developing countries from Africa, South America, and other parts of the world, and I'm very proud to be part of such an institution and to lead such a department.

Melanie: Thank you so much, Professor, for being on with us today. What great stories you have to tell, and I can absolutely tell that you have a passion for your work, and that the ophthalmology department at Hadassah Medical Organization will do great things with you as its Chair. This is Hadassah On Call: New Frontiers in Medicine, brought to you by Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America. The largest Jewish women's organization in America, Hadassah enhances the health of people worldwide through medical education, care, and research innovations at the Hadassah Medical Organization. For more information on the latest advances in medicine, please visit www.Hadassah.org. And to hear more episodes in this podcast series, please visit www.hadassah.org/podcasts. That's www.Hadassah.org/podcasts. I'm Melanie Cole, thanks so much for listening.

This is Hadassah On-Call: New Frontiers in Medicine brought to you by Hadassah, the women's Zionist organization of America. The largest Jewish women's organization in America, Hadassah enhances the health of people worldwide through medical education, care and research innovations at the Hadassah Medical Organization. For more information on the latest advances in medicine please visit www.hadassah.org and to hear more episodes in this podcast series please visit www.hadassah.org/podcasts, that's www.hadassah.org/podcasts. This is Melanie Cole. Thanks so much for listening.

We'd love to know your thoughts, questions, and stories! Send us an email anytime at marketing@hadassah.org.

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