Arsham Sheybani, MD, is an assistant professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences. His areas of specialty include glaucoma and surgical management of the anterior chamber (front of the eye).
Dr. Sheybani sees patients at:
•Barnes-Jewish Center for Outipatient Health, 6th floor, 4901 Forest Park Ave. Call (314) 362-3937
•US Veterans Health Administration, VA Medical Center, John Cochran Division, 915 North Grand Blvd Call (314) 289-6409
What happened in the course of schooling to influence you to choose your specialty?
I was initially drawn to the cancer-related side of obstetrics/gynecology in medical school. I had so much empathy for those patients who were dealing with very difficult disease, but the labor and delivery aspect of that residency kept me from going down that path. I then became exposed to retina surgery and ophthalmology research.
Eventually I chose glaucoma as I had sincere compassion for these patients. It was a very similar feeling of wanting to help people with gynecologic cancers. Glaucoma patients deal with a potentially devastating chronic disease that rarely has a true cure.
I also loved the advanced technology in the field. While growing up I was always tinkering and building things, so ophthalmology is a perfect fit for me. I’ve been able to tap into that childhood desire to build by being involved in designing new devices in the field of glaucoma and anterior segment surgery.
What is your main focus?
My main focus is glaucoma and surgery of the anterior chamber (the front of the eye). Problems in this area can be congenital disease or damage that occurs after trauma or surgery gone wrong. Some of our patients come to us for surgery when they’ve been told they don’t have many options left.
In many cases the anterior segment problems result in glaucoma. Traditionally, these two problems are handled by multiple eye specialists. But because of my training, I am able to take care of both conditions – and that makes it easier for the patient.
What brought you to Washington University?
I came here for medical school. My dad is a pulmonary physician and he was partial to Washington University because they have a very strong pulmonary division.
After I started school here, I realized what a gem this place is. There are not many large universities that are as focused on teaching and research as Washington University. They are very supportive of physicians who want to advance medicine for the benefit of patient care, and that is what brought me back after my fellowship.
Which aspect of your practice is most interesting?
There are three aspects of my practice that I really love: teaching, research, and the disease process of glaucoma. If I had to pick one, it would be the disease process of glaucoma. It’s a challenge, and right now glaucoma doesn’t have a cure. My main goal is to take the burden of the disease away from my patients.
However, teaching and research are also very interesting to me. As a teacher, you always need to be at the forefront of your field. You have to be the one to show your students what’s new, what’s best and what’s safest.
On the research side, I like working with the private sector because both sides benefit from the relationship. There are devices already in development in the private sector that are much more advanced than what we can do in our lab. However, the private sector needs our clinical and surgical insight to maximize safety and outcomes of these novel devices.
What new developments in your field are you most excited about?
Currently, glaucoma surgery varies from surgeon to surgeon and patient to patient. We are working to make it a more standardized operation with devices that are less invasive, resulting in less operative time and a quicker recovery. Our goal is to improve the safety and predictability of the surgery.
Looking down the horizon, it’s going to be a different surgical field in the next ten years, maybe even in the next five. That is why we are seeing more residents choosing this subspecialty than ever before - it’s exciting.
What causes glaucoma?
There are some glaucomas that have a very definitive cause. We know that the pressure in the eye plays into it, and we always thought it was all about the pressure – but pressure isn’t even in the definition of the disease.
Glaucoma is defined as “a group of eye diseases causing optic nerve damage.” There are many factors that can cause pressure and vision problems, but as far as the core root, we are still researching.
Because we can only treat the pressure with medications and surgery, my goal is to make the surgery as safe as possible.
However, it’s really about prevention -- if we can intervene even earlier, we can prevent the disease from getting worse – it is medicine in its truest sense. Once there is damage, we can’t reverse it. We need to be able to act early enough to prevent vision loss, but we don’t want to treat prematurely.
Can you talk about your research?
Some of my research involves device design that can help make glaucoma surgery safer and more standardized. I’m also doing research on finding ways to diagnose high-risk glaucoma earlier with biomarkers (blood tests) and eye tissue examination in order to give us a better idea of why these glaucomas occur and to intervene earlier.
Where are you from?
I was born in Iran and my family moved to the United States when I was four. I grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and did all of my undergrad education there. Even though I’m a southern boy at heart, I then moved to St. Louis for medical school.
My dad is a pulmonary critical physician and he and my mother still live in Louisiana. My three siblings and I chose medicine even though we never felt any pressure from our dad. He is a modest guy and didn’t talk much about his work, but we would hear from other people what an impact he had had on their lives. He would come home with teaching awards and we’d always be so proud.
I think that is why we each independently decided to go into medicine. We each also chose different specialties, but we don’t talk shop when we are together – it’s the unspoken rule!
Is there a particular award or achievement that is most gratifying?
During residency I received the Ron Burde “Good Egg” Award – it’s a peer-selected award for someone who is congenial and helps his or her co-workers. More than anything, it’s important to realize that if we are all helping each other, then we are all going to excel.
Because this award was peer-selected by my co-residents, it means the most to me. It was really nice.
What is the best advice you’ve received?
Robert Hammer, my organic chemistry teacher and research mentor throughout college, told me, “Do a few things and do them really, really well. Don’t do a lot of things and be mediocre.”
In the beginning of college I was not following that advice. I was spread really thin and once I got to medical school and eventually residency, I realized that focusing and becoming an expert in a couple of areas was probably more beneficial for myself, for what I was working on, and for the people I was treating.
If you weren’t a doctor, what would you like to be doing?
If I weren’t in medicine, I’d probably be in aviation design. As a hobby growing up, my brothers and I would design and build remote control planes from scratch. I was always fascinated with flight. So I’d either be working at Boeing or NASA, designing airplanes or space ships.