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2003 University of Hawaiʻi MD alumnus performs Oʻahu’s first “DMEK” surgery, an advanced technique for corneal transplant

Date: January 7th, 2019 in Alumni News, Breakthoughs, Faculty    Print or PDF

Dr. Wong performing the DMEK procedure.

Pictured: Dr. Wong performing the DMEK procedure. Photo courtesy of The Eye Surgery Center of Hawaiʻi.

By Tina Shelton, JABSOM Communications Director

2003 John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) alumnus Jeff Wong, MD, a Honolulu ophthalmologist and corneal surgeon, has performed a Descemet Membrane Endothelial Keratoplasty (DMEK) corneal transplant, only the second so far in Hawaiʻi. Dr. Wong, who performed his residency and fellowship training outside of Hawaiʻi after graduation because JABSOM has no ophthalmology post-graduate education, returned home after his advanced training, bringing the newest practices in eye surgery with him to teach as a JABSOM Assistant Clinical Professor of Surgery and to treat patients at The Eye Surgery Center of Hawaiʻi at the Honolulu Eye Clinic.

For patients suffering from poor vision due to conditions such as Fuchs’ corneal endothelial dystrophy and corneal swelling, corneal transplantation has been a surgical therapy for over 100 years, according to Dr. Wong. The cornea is the clear dome shaped “window” in front of the iris, the colored part of the eye. Historically, corneal transplants remove a full thickness area of a patient’s cornea (replacing both healthy and diseased tissue), and a donor full thickness corneal graft is then sewn onto the patient’s eye. This older full thickness technique often results in high levels of astigmatism, higher chances of rejection, slow visual recovery up to one year, and are more susceptible to injury after trauma.

“However, over the past 20 years, techniques have been pioneered to replace only the dysfunctional inner layer of the cornea, preserving the rest of the patient’s healthy cornea,” said Dr. Wong. “Named endothelial keratoplasty, it has significantly improved vision, and dramatically reduced graft rejection.”

Insertion of the DMEK Graft

The eye, seen after the operation.

The eye, seen after the operation.

DMEK is the newest and most advanced form of endothelial keratoplasty
DMEK is the newest and most advanced form of endothelial keratoplasty and is a true one-to-one replacement of the diseased tissue.

“DMEK is an evolution of an older technique which uses much thicker tissue,” said Dr. Wong. “During DMEK surgery, only the patient’s diseased corneal layer is removed, and the healthy tissue is left intact. Then, a perfect anatomic replacement donor tissue is inserted.”

The DMEK tissue is only about 10 microns in thickness or 2% of the total cornea, compared with the older technique which uses tissue of about 100 microns (for comparison, a human hair is approximately 75 microns). Dr. Wong says the thinner DMEK tissue results in better vision for patients, faster recovery, and a drastic decline in transplant rejection.

“I am excited to help expand the delivery of this incredible technique to the islands, as I always want to be able to offer the best possible results for my patients,” Dr. Wong said.

Dr. Jeff Wong, JABSOM MD 2003

See a TV News Story about Dr. Wong and his procedure from Hawaiʻi News Now (Note: This is an exterior link.)

About Jeff Wong, MD
Dr. Wong is board-certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology, and co-owner of Honolulu Eye Clinic with his wife Dr. Rupa Wong who is a pediatric ophthalmologist. Since 2008 they have offered ophthalmic services for the entire family, including pediatric eye care, strabismus surgery, cataract surgery, and corneal surgery. Dr. Jeff Wong received his medical degree from the University of Hawaiʻi John A. Burns School of Medicine where he was elected to the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Society. He then went on to complete a residency in Ophthalmology at New York University & Manhattan, Eye, Ear, & Throat Hospital, and a fellowship in Corneal Surgery and External Disease at Tufts Medical Center. He maintains active membership in several professional organizations, including the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons, and the Cornea Society. He is available for interview upon request.

For more information about Dr. Wong and his practice, please visit HonoluluEyeClinic.com.

Congratulations also to Dr. Janie Yoo, a graduate of Harvard Medical School, who, according to a post by Crane Eye Care in Līhuʻe, completed the first Descemet Membrane Endothelial Keratoplasty (DMEK) corneal transplant surgery on Kauaʻi on December 4, 2018. Dr. Wong performed his procedure on Oʻahu on December 19, 2018.

Are you a JABSOM Alum?
We would love to write about what you are up to. Contact Tina Shelton, at UH Med Now.
And, for more information about the JABSOM Alumni Association, contact
Julie Inouye Associate Director of Development and Alumni Engagement. Her telephone is (808) 692-0873.

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