Research and Treating Retina Disease Go Hand in Hand.
A Fateful Play Steers Basketball Player to Becoming World-Renowned Retina Specialist.
There’s no doubt the first thing one notices about Shalesh Kaushal, M.D., Ophthalmologist and Retina Specialist at Magruder Eye Institute, is his height. And he took full advantage in high school as he became a sought-after pitcher and basketball player. An awkward landing from a slam dunk during his junior year in high school sidelined him and made Shalesh, always a good student, more focused on his studies.
Growing up in Essex Junction, Vermont, he was around science and technology from an early age. His father worked on the first hardware configurations for IBM PC’s, a concept that would later become a revolutionary technological advancement. This sparked an interest for Shalesh that would later develop into a passion for learning and research. From there, his successes in the classroom opened real possibilities for undergraduate studies.
“I applied to nearly all of Ivy League schools along with the top schools on the west coast and was blessed to attend Yale University,” says Dr. Kaushal. “I studied molecular biophysics and biochemistry as an undergraduate. I also took a set of classes in theoretical physics, something I am still passionate about today.”
In college, Shalesh discovered that he really enjoyed working with people. He soon began working in a hospital volunteer program, which he also directed his junior and senior year, where he was able to, as he describes it, “help people.” This passion soon became instrumental deciding on a career in medicine.
Shalesh later enrolled in the prestigious Johns Hopkins University School for Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. One of his mentors was Dr. Ben Carson, who encouraged him to become a pediatric neurosurgeon. But he was fascinated by ophthalmology and influenced by Drs. Ed and Irene Maumenee, internationally respected ophthalmologists at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Hopkins
“I decided to pursue ophthalmology, specifically, the retina because it is an accessible part of central nervous system. It is also a sensitive gauge of the overall health of a person. The medical and surgical procedures are interesting and impactful for patient’s vision,” explains Dr. Kaushal. “I love the research and developing new ways to think about and treat diseases, with the eye having an unusual expanding possibility for this.”
After medical school, Dr. Kaushal earned his PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with the Nobel Laureate Dr. Har Gobind Khorana. Dr. Khorana’s original work on nucleotide synthesis (the building blocks of DNA) eventually led his research team to discover the details of the genetic code.
“When I joined Dr. Khorana’s lab, he had turned his attention to understanding the proteins in visual cells that respond to light. My thesis project involved studying certain aspects of the structure and function of the protein rhodopsin which detects light in the rod cells of the retina. Through the use of the remarkable methods of molecular biology and classical biochemistry, we were able to chemically dissect the biology of vision,” says Dr. Kaushal. “Our work led to some specific insights into not only how visual cells work but also the fundamental biochemical events associated with various retinal diseases.”
After graduate school, Dr. Kaushal completed his residency at the world renown Doheny Eye Institute/USC Department of Ophthalmology. Through the guidance and encouragement of Dr. Stephen Ryan at Doheny, Dr. Kaushal then completed his surgical and medical fellowship at Washington University St. Louis/Barnes Retina Institute, considered one of the premier retina training programs in the country. Because of his interest in inherited retinal diseases and research, he completed an additional year of training in London at Moorfields Eye Hospital with Dr. Alan Bird and Professor Shomi Bhattacharya and at the Institute of Ophthalmology.
“I finally made it to Florida where I was named Richardson II Chair and head of the clinical and surgical retina division at the University of Florida,” recalls Dr. Kaushal. “My wife and I had always thought of living here in Florida with our family and we were delighted and grateful when that opportunity came our way.”
While at UF, Dr. Kaushal recruited, trained and mentored physicians, residents, surgical fellows, graduate students, post-docs and visiting international scholars in his clinic and research lab. During that time, Dr. Kaushal was the first person to use four new drugs for retinal disorders.
As he transitioned to private practice, Dr. Kaushal had the opportunity to join Magruder Eye Institute as a retina specialist. “MEI provides a wonderful opportunity to see some of the most interesting people with retinal disorders in the world right here in Florida,” explains Dr. Kaushal. “Of course, you can’t beat the weather in central Florida. It’s such a beautiful and relaxing place.”
Dr. Kaushal also values the relationships he’s built with patients at Magruder Eye Institute. “For me, my patients become my friends,” he says.
“I intensely enjoy treating patients for all types of retina diseases from the common ones like Age-Related Macular Degeneration and diabetic retinopathy to more unusual and rare retinal conditions like retinitis pigmentosa. I find retinal surgery equally gratifying from repairing retinal detachments and macular holes, to removing vitreous hemorrhages and epiretinal membranes. I consider it an honor and a blessing to help people in a way that can deeply change their lives for the better. It is an unusually exciting time to be a retina specialist, because as our understanding of retinal diseases deepens, novel meaningful therapies are being developed”.
Dr. Kaushal enjoys being part of the team at Magruder Eye Institute.
“Magruder Eye Institute offers state-of-the-art diagnostic technologies and is committed to bringing in more of those instruments in the future,” continues Dr. Kaushal. “They also have superb doctors, many of whom have advanced the treatment of various eye diseases besides the retina. We all network together to use our combined knowledge and skills. And perhaps more important, unique and vital is our staff. They are extremely committed to our patients and are the glue of our group. We all work together so we can thoughtfully and effectively help all our patients people to attain their best vision.”
“My wife and two children absolutely love it here in Florida,” he says. “All of them love to play tennis. Florida is just the right place for us.”
Dr. Kaushal sees patients in our Mills Avenue office in Orlando. To schedule an appointment, call (407) 893-8200.