Dr Jasmina Cehajic Kapetanovic is an NIHR Clinical Research Fellow and Fellow in vitreoretinal surgery, specialising in gene-therapy and robot-assisted retinal surgery. She works as an Oxford BRC-funded clinical scientist in the team of leading ophthalmology professor Robert MacLaren, the Oxford BRC’s Theme Lead for Surgical Innovation. Her research is focused on restoring vision and developing genetic therapies for inherited retinal conditions.
“I’m involved in leading clinical trials for gene therapy, retinal prosthesis and innovative surgical techniques, such as robot-assisted retinal surgery,” Jasmina says. “My research is focused on developing gene therapy at the basic science level, including optogenetics, which was the main theme of my PhD and postdoctoral research. With that expertise I’ve come back to Oxford to gain first-hand experience in running the clinical trials.”
Jasmina began her medical training in Oxford, then moved to London, and was awarded the first NIHR Clinical Academic Fellowship in Ophthalmology in 2006. She studied for a DPhil in Gene Therapy and Optogenetics at the University of Manchester, completing her training after conducting post-doctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley, USA.
In her current role, she spends most of her time at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, while also coordinating clinical trials in Manchester and Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, as part of a multidisciplinary team of clinicians and researchers. During clinical time, Jasmina trains in vitreoretinal surgery, which gives her the chance to work with Prof MacLaren on gene therapy, the discipline in which she hopes to specialise.
“This research fellowship allows me to train in surgery as well as conduct research”Dr Jasmina Cehajic Kapetanovic
“For the clinical trials, we recruit patients, screening them to make sure they’re suitable for surgery. On the day of surgery, I make sure that everything is in place, that we have the right vectors and specialised equipment set up, so the surgery can run smoothly – it’s different from the usual operating list. In some trials I assist with the surgery, and in others I perform the surgery myself, depending on the protocol. Thereafter, I am involved in patients’ post-operative care and their close monitoring at regular intervals,” she explains.
She says the support she gets from the BRC allows her to combine her clinical and research work: “Once you’ve finished training, you have to organise your own funding, to continue working in research. This vitreoretinal research fellowship allows me to train in vitreoretinal surgery as well as conduct research and see research patients as part of their clinical care. In addition, being a researcher involves a lot of self-drive and motivation, but it allows for a certain amount of flexibility. It’s how my creative mind works. I want to challenge myself all the time; I am where I am because of that.”
Surgery has historically been a male-dominated field, but Jasmina, a mother of two children, feels that times are changing and she is “delighted to see more women taking part in vision research.” She feels that being a woman has not impacted adversely on her career.
“Combining research, surgery and family life is tough, but it makes me more focused. My organisational and time-management skills are constantly put to the test. It means I am never bored. It also helps massively to have continuous support from my family and my work colleagues, especially my mentor, Prof MacLaren.”
“The BRC funding gives me the flexibility to be able to do clinical research and to train in surgery at the same time. We have genetics clinics every two weeks and it’s full of wonderful opportunities. I look after patients with inherited retinal degenerations, and can enrol them in my research studies to help with their diagnosis, which is not available as part of their standard NHS care. I have protected time to do that.
“If the correct mutation is identified, this can result in their recruitment in interventional studies as part of clinical trials and future treatment, once the therapy becomes approved. In addition, I publish papers and contribute to the scientific knowledge in this exciting field of retinal genetics. This fellowship gives me the opportunity to combine three jobs in one.” she says.
Jasmina has already achieved a great deal, having recently been awarded a prestigious Global Ophthalmology Fellowship to continue her cutting-edge research. As for the future, she says that alongside becoming a specialised vitreoretinal surgeon, “I would love to lead my own research group, with clinicians and scientists, and that’s what I’m aiming to do.”
“I’m very lucky to be part of this era of gene therapy and visual restoration. It was just starting in 2006, when I was starting my career. Having being through the surgical and academic training right from the beginning, and having made significant contributions to the advancement in the field of retinal genetics, it has put me at the forefront of expertise in this area. The future of ophthalmology is going to be about genetics, and I’m there.”
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