A welcome recognition

Consultant ophthalmic surgeon, Professor Christopher Liu, was made an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) in the New Year’s honours list. He speaks to OT  about being recognised and using teeth to create artificial cornea

Professor Liu

Congratulations on your OBE – how does it feel to be recognised for your services to ophthalmology?

Thank you. It is rare for medical innovators to be so recognised, thus I do feel very honoured. All I have achieved in my professional life has been through team work, so the recognition is for sharing with my team, my teachers, my colleagues, my many fellows and students, my hospital and of course my most loving and supportive family. Such high honour and recognition will help me with my future work, especially work for the Sussex Eye Foundation, as potential donors will take me more seriously.

What have been some of your career highlights up to this point?

I have had the privilege to be President of the Medical Contact Lens and Ocular Surface Assocation, the British Society for Refractive Surgery, and the Southern Ophthalmological Society. I have also been Honorary Secretary of the United Kingdom and Ireland Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons. I really enjoyed helping set up the CertLRS examination of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, and helped review the output of the Refractive Surgery Working Party. The Department of Health Doctor of the Year Award in 2005 was also a highlight as was the work of the Governance Working Party to help modernise governance of the College. I continue as trustee of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists (RCOphth).

Could you tell me about osteo-odonto-keratoprosthesis (OOKP), and your work in this area?

The OOKP is a type of keratoprosthesis, or artificial cornea, made from the patient's own tooth root and surrounding jaw bone. It is capable of withstanding the most hostile ocular environment, including bone dry eyes and eyes with absent lids or blink. It is a very difficult surgical technique requiring a large multidisciplinary team. I am continuing clinical and laboratory research to improve and simplify the surgery as well as to reduce oral damage. Finally, I am active in international teaching and supporting colleagues worldwide to establish OOKP units.

"All I have achieved in my professional life has been through team work, so the recognition is for sharing with my team, my teachers, my colleagues, my many fellows and students, my hospital and of course my most loving and supportive family"

What are the aims of the Sussex Eye Foundation?

The Sussex Eye Foundation seeks to establish a new state-of-the-art eye facility for the South East. Existing local units will continue work for their local population but super-specialist work can be done in the new facility. Trustees of the Sussex Eye Foundation are minded to have a mixed economy model for the new facility so that surplus generated from private patient income will be used to subsidise the care of NHS patients. This is particularly important as NHS funding dwindles, demand outstrips supply, new treatments are more expensive, and we continue to live longer.

How has ophthalmology changed during your career?

The pace of change is fast. It has been characterised by increased dependence on exquisite but expensive instruments and machines, which need frequent replacement and, at times, unfulfillable levels of patient expectations. There have of course been new operations such as endothelial transplantation, and the game changing anti-VEGF injections.

What are your thoughts on the relationship between optometry and ophthalmology, can it be improved?

We are fortunate in the UK that optometrists and ophthalmologists have an excellent relationship. This relationship is based on mutual respect. We are different professions engaged in providing eye care to our patients. Optometrists are good at refraction, screening and primary care (more so than general practitioners, who have less knowledge of eye diseases). Some team up with the hospital eye service and provide amazing contact lens services to our corneal patients, yet others help with glaucoma and macular degeneration. Things will continue to go well as long as we do not tread on one another's toes.

What’s next for you?

I have a decade or so of professional life ahead of me and want to do more RCOphth work or advise the Government on ophthalmology. There is a lot of work to be done to make immediately sequential bilateral cataract surgery even safer and acceptable to patients and colleagues alike. There is also plenty to do to develop simpler and even more long-lasting artificial cornea. The new eye facility and the Sussex Eye Foundation will also keep me busy.