Celebrating our ophthalmic stars
Dr Peter Ring, Jake Arnold, Calvin Ring Undergraduate Awardee Xheida Mani, Alison Ring and Maria Fung

Celebrating our ophthalmic stars

July 22, 2023 Lesley Springall


After an absence of two years, the Excellence in Ophthalmology awards made a welcome return at the University of Auckland. Professor Charles McGhee, the long-standing Maurice Paykel chair of ophthalmology, welcomed attendees and introduced a moving pictorial celebration of a “life that should be celebrated”. The pictures and accompanying messages honoured the life and work of his late wife Jane McGhee, a senior research technician and lab manager at the university’s ophthalmology department who died unexpectedly earlier this year. Not only was Jane fondly described as the department ‘mum’, she was also an accomplished researcher who, among many other things, oversaw the establishment of human ocular stem-cell expansion techniques and patient reimplantation, saving the sight of countless individuals.


Outlining the incredible growth of the ophthalmology department over the 23 years of his tenure, Prof McGhee also paid tribute to the many fellows, PhD students and academic staff who helped make the department what it is today, with countless peer-reviewed papers and international accolades. A special mention was given to Professor Helen Danesh-Meyer who, like Prof McGhee before her, was named by The Ophthalmologist as one of its top-100 most influential ophthalmologists and was recognised in the King’s 2023 New Year honours list. Prof McGhee also said he was particularly proud of how optometry and ophthalmology have worked hand-in-hand at the university, in both research and education.


Dr Joevy Lim treated the audience to a heartfelt account of her journey from clinician to researcher after she was persuaded by Prof McGhee to do a PhD on ocular melanoma in New Zealand. Since this led to several best paper, poster and talk awards, and two publications, she said she now tells everyone in ophthalmology they should consider doing a PhD as part of their training.



Dian Zhuang, Dr Joevy Lim, Leonard Tan and Catherine Shon


Dr Mo Ziaei introduced the 2022 winner of the William MacKenzie medal, recognising early excellence in eye research. Dr Soobin Namkung, a non-training ophthalmology registrar, worked with Dr Ziaei and others on a project to assess the repeatability and agreement of horizontal white-to-white measurements (critical for refractive surgery decisions) across different imaging modalities. The research led to two published papers in Cornea (Nov 2022) and PLOS One (July 2021). Dr Ziaei said the work was so useful he continues to use the team’s white-to-white measurements in clinical practice.



Prof Charles McGhee, Brian Yoon and Dr Mo Ziaei with the 2022 William MacKenzie Medal recipient Dr Soobin Namkung


The 2022 Calvin Ring Undergraduate Prize winner, Dr Xheida Mani, was introduced by Dr Peter Ring, who established the award in his father’s name to recognise the best all-round undergraduate medical student in clinical ophthalmology and encourage interest in ophthalmology among medical students. Dr Mani is one of just a few individuals who excelled in optometry before moving into ophthalmology, he said.



Isabella and Isaac Samuels and Aliyah Thotahil


The Summer Student Awards were presented by Professor Jennifer Craig, who welcomed the audience in te reo Māori and paid tribute to the work of the students:

  • Isaac Samuels – Te Whakakitenga O Tāwhirimātea: validating a proposed Kaupapa Māori framework for approaching ocular examination
  • Carol D’Souza – Exploring the benefits of castor oil in improving eyelid health in blepharitis
  • Jordan Cooper – Ngaa Mata O Te Ariki: validating a Kaupapa Māori approach to ocular examination
  • Dilpreet Kaur – Endophthalmitis registry: monitoring and preventing serious eye infections following surgery
  • Aliyah Thotahil – Quality of life with herpes zoster ophthalmicus
  • Samuel Looker – Feed the world… with cellular agriculture
  • Sarah Moir – Stem cells for blindness