Eye doctor awarded research grant to help save children’s sight

An eye doctor at Leicester’s Hospitals has been awarded a prestigious doctoral fellowship worth £386,225 to run a research study in collaboration with Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH).

Dr Sohaib Rufai, a specialist registrar in ophthalmology at Leicester’s Hospitals and academic clinical fellow at the University of Leicester, received the award from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the nation’s largest funder of health and care research.

The NIHR Fellowship Programme supports individuals on their trajectory to becoming future leaders in NIHR research. The NIHR Doctoral Fellowship is a three year full-time award that supports individuals to undertake a PhD in an area of NIHR research. 

Dr Rufai’s research involves handheld optical coherence tomography (OCT) in infants and young children with rare conditions affecting vision. Using this technology, he can obtain high resolution 3D images of the retina and optic nerve at the back of eye, without the need for surgery. The ultimate ambition is to prevent blindness and save lives. 

Dr Rufai said: “I am delighted and humbled to be awarded the NIHR Doctoral Fellowship. It is exciting to start this collaboration between Leicester and GOSH for the benefit of infants and young children with rare conditions. I owe my profound gratitude and sincere thanks to my primary supervisor Professor Irene Gottlob [consultant ophthalmologist at Leicester’s Hospitals] who has supported me during my research career to date. I would also like to thank our wonderful patients and their families who have made this research possible.”

Recently Dr Rufai, under the supervision of Professor Gottlob, conducted the world’s first longitudinal cohort study assessing how the underdevelopment of infants’ retinas impacts their future vision. 

Underdevelopment of the central part of the retina responsible for vision is called foveal hypoplasia. Infants with foveal hypoplasia have nystagmus or ‘dancing eyes’, whereby the eyes move involuntarily. The handheld OCT scanner was central to producing ultra-high resolution 3D images of these children’s’ eyes. 

Dr Rufai will soon commence his NIHR Doctoral Fellowship which provides him with three years funding for a PhD in addition to supporting his research study.