FUTURE LOOKING VERY HEALTHY... - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

FUTURE LOOKING VERY HEALTHY…

JOHN BONNER
catches up with Peter Bedford, Emeritus Professor of Veterinary Ophthalmology at the RVC and a former president of the BSAVA, who has taken on new roles in ‘retirement’

WORK/don’t work: retirement
offers one of the few simple binary
choices that most people will face
during their careers.

Turn one way, down the path
marked “pipe and slippers”, and the
retiree walks away from those
activities that have occupied his or her
mind and body for the past four or
five decades. Turn the other way, and
it is a rejuvenated career focused on
those things that he or she has
enjoyed most,
freed from all
the more
tedious
aspects of a
staff job.

For those
who know Peter
Bedford, it
comes as no surprise that he should
have chosen the latter course, not
once but twice.

The man who pioneered the
London veterinary school’s research
and clinical services in veterinary
ophthalmology officially retired from
the RVC in 2004 after more than 40
years as an undergraduate, junior
lecturer and professor. But he was
back the next month and then ran the
ophthalmology service at the Queen
Mother Hospital for another six years.

After finally breaking away in
2010, he has continued working at
private referral clinics in St Albans and
central London, and helped run the
BVA canine health schemes, but his
eyes have increasingly focused on
fostering the professional
development of colleagues abroad.

International lecturer

In recent months he has lectured at
veterinary meetings across the globe,
including Bulgaria, Russia, Peru, Brazil
and China. Next March he will travel
to New Zealand for a meeting of the
International Society of Veterinary
Ophthalmology, of which he is the
current president.

“I have always enjoyed teaching
and in taking on these tasks, I know that I can contribute to something
that is worthwhile,” he says.

The son of a North Riding pig
farmer, Peter had always wanted to be
a vet and fulfilled that ambition when
he qualified from the RVC in 1967.
He stayed on for three years as a
house surgeon at the Beaumont clinic
in Camden Town where he developed
his interest in eye surgery.

With no immediate prospect of a
staff job he went off for a year in industry before returning to take up a
four-year postgraduate research post
under the great Clifford Formston,
looking at the aetiology of canine
glaucoma.

A junior lecture post came up
next, although the idea of specialising
in small animal ophthalmology wasn’t
a realistic prospect at that stage. “I
was employed to do head and neck
surgery in all species. So I could be
knocking out the cheek teeth on a
horse in the morning and doing
cataract surgery in a dog in the
afternoon.”

But with growing numbers of
ophthalmology referral cases arriving
at his door, the school soon accepted
the case for a clinical specialist in that
field. Although he has played a huge
role in the development of his
discipline, he cheerfully acknowledges
that Keith Barnett at the Animal
Health Trust was the first UK vet to
be able to claim that title.

Peter’s fellow Yorkshireman was
around 10 years older and like most
scions of that county, he did enjoy a
good argument. “Yes, you can say that
we had a few disagreements over the
years but we also did some good work
together and remained great friends
right up until Keith’s sad death in 2009.”

The RVC was the first UK school to offer a
residency post and over the
years Peter has been the
supervisor for eight students
undertaking PhDs in
veterinary ophthalmology.
The first of these was Simon
Petersen Jones, now
professor of comparative
ophthalmology at Michigan
State University and for Peter,
it is one of the pleasures of
an academic career to see his former students go on to great things.

With his colleagues, Peter has also watched and learned from
developments in human medicine. He
believes that the major contribution
he has made to veterinary medicine is
his work in helping to develop surgical
techniques for the treatment of
primary glaucoma in the dog. Similar
methods had already been used for
many years in human hospitals but it
was not a simple matter to apply that
knowledge in the veterinary sphere.

“Glaucoma in dogs and humans
are very different diseases. The
aetiology of the most common
condition in people is one that
produces a slow progressive condition.
In the most common form in dogs
you get a very sudden closure of the
drainage mechanism from the eye, the
animal will be fine one day but blind
and in considerable pain the next.”

Although the use of surgical
implants provides an alternative route
for draining aqueous humour from the
eye, it rarely provides a permanent
solution. “Unfortunately, the aqueous
humour is a great attractor of
fibroblast activity and within one,
maybe two, years the implant will
become wrapped in fibrous tissue and
so we have to do another procedure.

“I learned to do
phacoemulsification for cataract
surgery from human medical
colleagues. But if they had to deal
with the same problems we face in
canine patients they would have given
up attempts to make it work – the
dog’s eye is so much more reactive.”

Successes

Peter has also contributed to the
research effort towards a number of
other inherited ocular conditions in
dogs. He joined the Kennel Club as a
way to get closer to the breeders of
the affected animals and can count a
number of successes in helping to
improve the ocular health of
particular breeds.

But he cannot persuade breeders
to take appropriate action if some are
unwilling to attend meetings to discuss
the health of the dogs. He also regrets
that he has been unable to talk the
Kennel Club into introducing a policy
in those breeds where suitable genetic
tests are available, to only register puppies whose parents have been
tested.

Over his career Peter has seen
veterinary ophthalmology develop into
a mature clinical discipline in the UK
and over much of the rest of Europe.
So he is keen to encourage the same
growth in the science throughout the
world.

The ISVO was originally formed
30 years ago and after a first flush of
enthusiasm, it then went into a period
of relative inactivity. But now, with an
energetic committee behind it, the
organisation has grown to the point
where it has nearly 1,000 members
worldwide and regional bodies have
been established in centres of rapid
growth like East Asia.

As president of the international
society, Peter has supported initiatives
intended to encourage further growth
in the specialism. “We have our own
journal, The Globe, which contains
material such as abstracts from
meetings around the world and which
is now published three times a year.
We are also introducing a travel
scholarship for the first time at the
meeting in New Zealand.

“It is very important that
colleagues in developing countries are
able to travel to countries like the UK
to improve their skills. If we can
continue to maintain this momentum,
then the future of veterinary
ophthalmology will look very
healthy.”

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