(MyStory 002): "We Treat Corneal Ulcers by Light Rays", So Says Dr. Sanjay Marasini

My Story Episode 002 || © Vision Club 2020

Dr. Sanjay Marasini, Optometrist, Nepal
Dr. Sanjaya Marasini, likes to listen music, sing, travel and write in the leisure time


Dr Marasini completed his bachelor’s degree in Optometry in early 2009 from Institute of Medicine, Tribhuwan University, and he was awarded a PhD in Ophthalmology from the University of Auckland in 2019. He is currently working in the department of Ophthalmology in the University of Auckland as a research fellow. His primary research interests include cornea in health and disease. With over 15 peer reviewed scientific publications in diverse areas of Optometry and Ophthalmology, he is currently exploring the potential of light-based therapies against localized infections. In this blog he shares how a little nerd transitioned himself to becoming a vision scientist.
Keywords: #SanjayMarasini #Auckland #PhD #UVRays #CornealInfections
Born and brought up in a small hamlet of Gulmi, Dr. Sanjay Marasini now stands in so canonized a position that he shares a major contribution in a breakthrough discovery in ophthalmology, and perhaps to the whole of medical science, that will forever change the treatment modality of superficial corneal infections. Someday, we no longer have to rely upon the medical drugs for the treatment of ulcers, when his findings are further solidified.Dr. Sanjay Marasini, a Nepalese Optometrist and a researcher today, wonderfully puts his story of struggles, sufferings, perseverance, passion and success. Read out this Episode #002 of #MyStory #VisionClub

Story of my life

Before Fleming accidentally discovered penicillin in 1928, little could be done to treat bacterial infections. Millions of people died because diseases were incurable as there was no effective treatment. Within the next few decades from today, within our lifetime, history will repeat. One person will die every three seconds due to a different problem – bacteria fighting back and diseases becoming incurable. Little have I done to invite those consequences but now I’m working day and night to try to reverse the cycle. Every morning, when photons traverse through the window and give me a gentle touch, I start thinking about my armour – the photon. It is that weapon which destroys everything that comes in its path, be it death-defying bacteria or sluggish ideas on my head. This armour made its way to my career and is giving me the light.

Life took a track when I was about 7 years old, trying to be a gentle kid who earned good academic grades for unpacking everything fed to me, emerging out of hardships of my parents− who were trying to make two ends meet. My neighbors praised me for my obedience, and empathized for my fairly poor athletic skills that made me loose almost all the competitions. My vertical head nodding skills as  it swung sideways was considered a bad attribute. My childhood carried nostalgic scars of not having our own house and living in a hut that was once completely swept away by a hailstorm. In other words – I was a nerd growing under hardship! One day this chapter closed completely and forever when I received an email with an offer to work on ‘Photons’ while clearing my bowel early in the morning, making myself ready to start a mundane day. Sudden rush of adrenaline into my veins made me spring into a friend’s apartment next door, making him run out of his bed, with his wife, because of presumed earthquake and Tsunami. That day I discovered two things: first, my potential and second; some people’s comfort in sleeping the way they were born – with no clothes on.

Ruled by a principle of self-discipline can sometimes be hard but having friends who are like stars, who shine when the sun goes down, sometimes even before that, can bring light into your life and guide you to soar further up when you are low. You learn several lifelong skills that you can boast about and make several memories that don’t fade away even after decades. Friends who teach you how to roll a tobacco also tell you how to prepare for a job interview. Serious career lessons were discussed and future plans were contrived while bloating the belly with Corona 4.5% and floating somewhere in the Indian ocean with best friends around. While in the Maldives, life was hard as a missed boat for a bar at midnight meant carrying the stress over. But every new day brought new motivations in the form of new patients. A new patient meant a new case that would require a new thinking and that would turn into a new weapon. Trying to run in the comfort zones always rendered more competitors but refined the self within me and prepared for the next embarkment. Trying to reach beyond conventional path always brought best opportunities but with redoubtable challenges. The only thing that returned more than the investment was learning: self-learning, learning from mistakes, learning from friends, learning from patients, learning from teachers, learning by observation and learning from FAILURES. What you learn will be tested one way or another. Every workplace had a library of life lessons and those lessons helped to formulate life goals. Being an odd bunch in the workplace was always a benefit as people noticed the existence quickly. Being noticed was fruitful as it boosted collaborations and disclosed new opportunities.

Being an Optometrist was destined, the first signal for it came through an eye camp in our village when I was around 8 years old. Out of curiosity, I queued to read letters in a chart that was hanging a few yards away. When I was asked to read letters, I pretended not to see all of them. I was told that I passed the test but I thought it was a cool thing. Almost twelve years later, queuing at a window in Dean’s office at Institute of Medicine (IOM) in 2004, waiting to submit an entrance exam form, still undecided what I wanted to be in my life, my eyes stopped suddenly in a brochure that had an eye diagram. My brain stopped and rolled back to the date when I had first spotted a chart with letters – the Snellen’s chart. My heart told me to circle the third option and my brain guided my hands to do that. I was the sixth lucky champ into the course, Bachelor of Optometry – 7th batch. Excited and nervous, I stormed into a bus back home to share the news. I thought about how happy my mother would be to hear this. This feeling was hard to suppress and tears were hard to hide from the people around. It felt like hours before I made it to the home and unleash the news on the telephone. But immediately afterwards a fear of uncertainty started to hover around my head: did I actually pass the entrance test? Or was I in the waiting list? I needed to confirm this before the news spread like a virus. I flung myself back into a bus, went straight to the notice board, and read the result at least three times to confirm it. Thank god, it was real! An exciting journey was about to begin. Bidding a goodbye to the microbiology group at Tri-Chandra college was hard− whom I had known for almost a year −especially when one of many love crushes was there. I remember a day when Suresh Awasthi dai (4th Batch, BOptom) told me in B6 (B-Block Boy’s hostel-room-6) ‘Out of sight, out of mind- move on’. I moved on and added many more crushes (one-sided) in the journey until I found the love of my life in Dhulikhel.

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Studying Optometry was harder due to poor facilities but we had fantastic teachers, Dr Prakash Paudel and Dr Jyoti Khadka who deserve a big round applause. A mixed model of training that rarely exists in other parts of the world in which Optometrists are trained along with Ophthalmologists is the strongest part of Optometry at IOM. My friends were really brilliant who used to secure good marks in the exam results. Jeewa Bist, Nabin Paudel, Gopal Bhandari, Ajit Thakur, Dipendra Sah and myself, all with different tastes, background and characteristics. Nabin, Ajit and Gopal (Goalji) were always found in the library, Deependra (Balaji) at basketball court for playing cricket, Jeewa (Mostly him!) and I somewhere around Maharajgunj and Chakrapath. When I look back, I realize I worked harder after graduating as an Optometrist. Lean and thin body, trying to look smart with a worn-out blazer borrowed from a friend, and experiences gathered in eye camps and optical shops are all the fundamentals that developed me from within, and I didn’t take them for granted. Almost three and a half years of work experience at Dhulikhel Hospital was the crucial phase of my career – I bought my own mobile phone and the first laptop in 2009 with my salary of first few months. I published several papers from Dhulikhel Hospital and developed my academic and research interests. 

On 15 September 2012, a few days before Dashain, I took a flight to the Maldives to work in a private clinic. Jeewa picked me from the airport and Santosh dai welcomed me with his friendly gesture. Next 22 months were to be lived in the Maldives to make some money, pay family loans, make friends, learn several skills that would be required for the next phase of career and enhance self-study skills that would be required in the future. In the process, I learned how to write a proper email, how to look for prospective universities and supervisors and how to draft research proposals. I had written 140 emails to different prospective supervisors in those 22 months, throughout the world, and a response (negative or positive) would invite a party - a party at HulhuMale’ resort, the only bar near Male’ city and Jeewa would always be there with me to celebrate my success and give me sympathy in failures (more frequent event). Frustrated and feeling low, I explored several other options other than PhD, but life had different plans for me. One day I received an email that said ‘Please let me know if you are still interested to do a PhD in my lab otherwise, I’ll consider a different applicant’. I had missed an earlier email sent to me almost six months ago! Things worked. I also won a very prestigious international scholarship from Auckland University that funded my PhD and living costs. 

The culmination of strength, knowledge, intelligence, innovation, persistence and positivity all were finally tested at once during my PhD – and the invitation (the scholarship) for this test had come while I was following a daily morning routine. My research is on exploring the potential of light-based therapies (photons) in treating superficial corneal infections. I needed to learn and master skills in microbiology (my one-year training at Tri-Chandra College became fruitful) that including genetically modified bioluminescent bacteria, immunocytochemistry (where we use specific antibodies to detect target molecules in cells and tissues – in my case it’s the DNA defects), histology, molecular biology and minor surgeries. The most difficult aspect of doing this PhD was developing communication skills to connect dots from multidisciplinary research teams and learning the skill set with little hands-on training especially because I was fed back in school. Supervisors facilitate and guide the research process but you have to do everything by yourself. Every other person is smarter than you and even undergraduates pose you a tough competition. PhD is a process and most people survive this journey while many others do not. After PhD, I tested myself if I was  ready to go back to the practice sector but quickly, I realized that’s not where I would thrive. 

My hard work paid and I received a Research Fellow position at Auckland University, again working with photons and killing bugs (thanks to my laboratory skills). I chose to continue this research and declined a permanent lecturer position in the UK (and I think that was a good decision). My current job also involves conducting clinical trials in Dry eyes. I have a few collaborations underway with researchers from Melbourne University and Harvard University owing to the fact that my research was quite innovative. During PhD, there were other opportunities of collaboration in which I worked with molecular biologists to propose a glaucoma detection test. My in-depth knowledge on glaucoma that I got from the experience of working in Dhulikhel Hospital and studying in IOM was the cornerstone in proposing this idea. Our group has won two different commercial awards and the test is in the validation stage. I lead the team as a clinical director and research optometrist. We expect to expedite the glaucoma detection process with this test. We’ve received some initial funding to do a preliminary investigation. A time that is frozen and still stuck on my head is 3:30 pm, the 20th March 2019 - The day I defended my PhD at the clock tower, 22-Princess Street, The University of Auckland. When the examiner said ‘Congratulations. It was an excellent PhD defense’- adrenaline rushed through my veins, again. This time I didn’t cry but walked to my car, slammed the door, closed all the windows and shouted as much and as long as I could.

Becoming a clinician was easy, little harder was becoming a clinician-scientist, and the hardest was becoming a biomedical scientist. A scientist is a student, a hard-working student. My mother asks me ‘when do you complete your studies?’. Perhaps never. My wife doesn’t want to be like me as she has seen me taking a shower for hours trying to conceive an idea or planning some experiments, and running miles and miles to prepare the brain for new projects. She no longer entertains my descriptions of things as my language has changed from definitely to probably. I enjoy closing my lids and thinking about the clear areas in an agar plate full of bacteria exposed to the photons – my armour to fight bacteria. I enjoy thinking about the help that I would be able to offer to the people in the Terai region who come with perforating corneal ulcer and all treated with light, thanks to my research. I smile for being able to give happiness to my family and being able to support them financially when required. I feel proud of contributing to science and helping people see better. And this is just the beginning.

Dr Sanjay Marasini, BOptom, PhD
Research Fellow
Department of Ophthalmology
The University of Auckland

Post a Comment


Great read Sajnay dajju! I feel honored to have worked with you and learnt so much from you! Lovely times in IOM and the Maldives! Best wishes!
Naveen Marasini said…
Mind blowing stories of Strugle, Determimation, academic and professional echievement and untold heroism ! Proud of U, Brother!
Nabeen said…
Great story Dr Marasini !
Shubhash Yadav said…
A wonderful journey indeed. Kudos to your efforts and achievements.