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Business & Profession Cornea / Ocular Surface, Refractive, Professional Development, Health Economics and Policy

Rising Star: Pooja Khamar

Headshot supplied by author

For Pooja Khamar, ophthalmology was a calling. Growing up with an uncle, Bakulesh Khamar, who was a renowned retina specialist and an aunt, Mayuri Khamar, who was a glaucoma specialist, she not only gained an early introduction to the eye care world but also to the area of translational research. She watched her uncle achieve what was in the 1980s the rare dream of becoming a clinician-researcher in translational sciences, pursuing translational research in his extra-duty hours. Khamar saw him become one of the first people in India to work on long-term preservation of corneas, granting in remote areas access to corneal transplantation, ocular oncology drug delivery systems, and the development of several vaccines – including COVID-19 vaccinations. This left an indelible mark on Khamar. When it came to embarking on her own career journey, she did so with a similar dream – to make a lasting impact on ophthalmology through a combination of clinical and translational research.

Of the core principles that formed the foundation on which Pooja Khamar has built her career, the first is the idea of “singing for your soul” – or, as one of her mentors, Power Lister Rohit Shetty told her, “Enjoy the journey and don’t worry about the destination.” This philosophy has served as something of a guiding principle, contributing to the joy that Khamar has for the work that she does. Khamar’s career has thrived through her fellowship and subsequent work at Narayana Nethralaya Eye Institute, India. Bhujang Shetty, the Institute’s late chairman and founder, was the originator of two of Khamar’s other guiding principles: make sure the needs and happiness of patients are your paramount concern, and look beyond the patients’ conditions to take a holistic medical approach.

To Khamar, this idea of a holistic medicine will form the backbone of ophthalmology’s future. To this end, the translational research that she and her team have worked on has included investigating targeted therapies, biomarkers – both imaging and molecular – and genetic testing, as well as artificial intelligence and nanoparticle drug delivery systems. A particular highlight for Khamar is developing the first point-of-care stepwise diagnostic kit. As she explains, “Through this Bio-M Pathfinder Kit, clinicians will measure various molecular biomarkers within a clinical setting with just a Schirmer's strip or an aqueous or vitreous humor, and from this, customize targeted therapies that can be designed for patients with ocular surface conditions, dry eye, diabetic retinopathies, ARMDs, glaucoma, myopia and many other conditions.” Khamar’s research has not gone unnoticed in the ophthalmology community, with four of the five papers that she presented at the 2019 ASCRS conference in San Diego, California, receiving awards.

Khamar emphasizes that her career “has not been a solo endeavor.” She says, “I have received wonderful support from my team and my mentors, who have helped me to keep moving.” Shetty, says Khamar, “is among the finest translational scientists and refractive surgeons I have ever encountered. It had been a lifelong dream to receive training under his guidance, and I patiently waited for an opportunity to pursue a fellowship with him.” She also points to Power Listers John Marshall, Abhay Vasavada, Damien Gatinel, and Arthur Cummings as having a “profound effect” on her. And she expresses gratitude to her family, particularly her father, Mayur Khamar, “for standing as a steadfast guardian and supporting me in pursuing my dreams, even in the face of numerous challenges he encountered on my behalf.”

It’s clear that this appreciation flows back to Khamar. As one of her ophthalmic heroes, Damien Gatinel says, “I have had the privilege of knowing Pooja Khamar for nearly a decade. During this time, I have witnessed her remarkable journey from being a skilled clinician to emerging as a pioneering translational scientist. She undoubtedly deserves the recognition she receives, and her remarkable journey is bound to inspire countless young clinicians to embark on similar dynamic roles in the field of medicine.”

Pooja Khamar is a consultant and lead trainer in cataract and refractive services, and a clinician and a translational scientist at Narayana Nethralaya Eye Institute, Bangalore, India.

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