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Email Prompts NEI Director to Examine Patient Abroad

By Allyson T. Collins

Sieving with Dr. Chen Song (r) of Tianjin Eye Hospital and the patient's family
Sieving with Dr. Chen Song (r) of Tianjin Eye Hospital and the patient's family

In advance of NEI director Dr. Paul A. Sieving’s recent trip to China, a poster at Tianjin Eye Hospital promoted one of his lectures. Just days before Sieving was scheduled to speak, a local high school English teacher saw the poster and immediately thought of his father who was experiencing vision loss.

The man turned to the Internet, where he found NEI’s email address for public inquiries. He wrote: "I’ve checked out your web site, which gives me the impression that you do research, not treatment. However, I still bear the slightest hope that Dr. Sieving can give my father’s eyes a look during his stay in Tianjin…my family and I are really anxious and worried about his eyes."

An NEI communications staff member forwarded the message to Sieving. He was already en route to China but immediately agreed to the request.

"This was an opportunity for me to gain insight into the realities of eye care in China," he explained. "Not only was this a chance to see eye care from a patient’s perspective, but it was also a unique means for an educational collaboration."

Sieving examined the 60-year-old man at Tianjin Eye Hospital while seven other health care professionals observed. Their discussions resulted in a diagnosis of choroidal neovascular age-related macular degeneration, which causes loss of vision from the growth of new blood vessels in the eye. The man underwent imaging tests and was later evaluated for treatment.

"This is an example of how NIH scientists can form international collaborations that start at the level of a single patient and may ultimately grow to include innovative training and research programs," said FIC director Dr. Roger Glass.

In fact, Sieving’s visit was not the first partnership between NEI and Tianjin Eye Hospital. Dr. Ningdong Li, a fellow in NEI’s Ophthalmic Genetics and Visual Function Branch, came to the institute from the Eye Hospital in November 2007.

"Today the world has become smaller and smaller," Li said. "Every year more foreign experts visit our hospital in Tianjin."

He said that in the future, he hopes to return Sieving’s favor. "After training at NEI, I think I can go back to China and make progress in vision research."

NIH Record

December 12, 2008

Department of Health and Human Services NIH, the National Institutes of Health