Jones Eye Institute’s Jabbehdari First Female Resident Finalist for ASCRS Award

By Benjamin Waldrum

Jabbehdari was one of three finalists from a pool of 150 participants in the ASCRS Winning Pitch, a competition designed to foster innovation in ophthalmology. She is the first female resident to be named a finalist.

“Dr. Jabbehdari’s ideas are groundbreaking,” said Paul Phillips, M.D., Jones Eye Institute director and chair of the UAMS Department of Ophthalmology in the College of Medicine. “Many patients previously blind from corneal disease will now be able to see.”

Winning Pitch is part of the ASCRS Eyecelerator annual conference, which this year was held April 21 in Washington, D.C. The conference is a partnership between ASCRS and the American Academy of Ophthalmology to connect ophthalmologists and entrepreneurs with investors and mentors to accelerate ophthalmic innovation and improve patient outcomes.

The contest is designed to provide ophthalmologists with tools and assistance to help them transform their novel ideas for improvements in patient care into functioning prototypes that can be tested in early-stage studies.

Jabbehdari’s idea addresses corneal epithelial defects. These defects occur in the outermost layer of the cornea, which is the part of the eye that controls and focuses light into the eye. Current treatments are determined case-by-case and include transplantation, blood-derived products, bio-active hydrogels, amniotic membrane applications and stem cell therapy.

Donors are usually available to address these defects in the United States, but there is a donor shortage across the rest of the world. This shortage, along with the need for trained eye surgeons and risks for post-surgery complications, makes the treatment challenging and the current treatment options insufficient.

Jabbehdari pitched an idea using an extracellular matrix made up of corneal mesenchymal stem cells (cMSCs). These stem cells, derived from the cornea of the eye, are rich in growth and healing factors and are easy to manipulate, mold and reproduce. Once a large number of these cMSCs are collected, they can be fashioned into an extracellular matrix — a 3D network of cells that provides structural and biochemical support to surrounding cells.

Her novel approach to a complex problem earned acclaim and second place among the finalists. As runner-up, Jabbehdari received a $15,000 award, which she will use to optimize the treatment for future clinical evaluations.

Jabbehdari received her medical degree from Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences in Tehran, Iran. She completed a postdoctoral research fellowship in corneal tissue engineering and stem cell therapy at Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary at the University of Illinois at Chicago from 2017 to 2021. She received her Master’s in Public Health from the university’s School of Public Health in 2020.

ASCRS is an international educational society with ophthalmic surgeons at every career stage. Its mission is to empower anterior segment surgeons to improve the vision, outcomes and quality of life for their patients through innovative approaches to education, advocacy and philanthropy. For more information, visit