On the non-cutting edge


By Joey Gomez

 Dr. Raul Peña believes technology in the Rio Grande Valley is evolving. Consistent strides in many different fields in professional circles, and among budding entrepreneurs are not only reshaping the region, they are making it infinitely more competitive and exciting.RaulPenaGraphicIdea

Long on the leading edge of technological advances in his field, Dr. Peña looks ahead to significant occurrences that are going to take place soon in the region, and is eager to play his part.

The philosophy signifies an eagerness to find the newest, best and safest technology for his patients.

“We have the technology here.  Now, we don’t have to go to Houston or anywhere else. When I was a young boy I would hear people say that they were going to Houston or somewhere else for medical treatment. So I made it a point that when I grew up and became a doctor we would have the latest technology here in the Rio Grande Valley.” Dr. Peña said. “As far as the eyes are concerned we always strive to have the latest and safest technology available today.”

“When it comes to Cataract surgery, for example, we offer the Crystalens and Tecnis Multifocal Lenses. I performed the outpatient procedure on my father over five years ago and he is now free of glasses and rivals people half his age when it comes to vision.”

Crystalens was modeled after the human eye. Like the natural lens, it is a lens implant that uses the eye muscle to flex and accommodate in order to focus on objects in the environment at all distances. Many patients hardly, if ever, need glasses after surgery.

From conductive keratoplasty surgery, which uses radio frequency energy to reshape the cornea to improve focus, to intraocular lens implants used to treat patients who suffer from cataracts, there is a wide range of “blade-free” technology available, according to Peña, such as the IntraLasik procedure he performs at his office.

It is important to distinguish IntraLASIK, the latest and safest procedure, from the Lasik procedure which has long been replaced. IntraLASIK uses lasers to significantly improve visions, eliminating the need for glasses. The blade-free procedure permanently changes the shape of your cornea to correct nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism by properly focusing light on the retina.

Peña’s office offers the Advanced Control Eyetracking (ACE) Technology, a state of the art rotational system utilized in IntraLASIK. It tracks the eye and keeps the laser precisely where it needs to be, eliminating any fear the patient might have of moving during the procedure.

“I have always made it a point to keep on learning, and keep on seeing what the latest and newest technology is going to be. If it convinces me that it’s the right technology, then I’ll bring it down to the Valley and use it to help my patients.”

The impact of a technology-based approach to the practice is significant. Original methods to relieve patients of cataracts for example, now seem barbaric compared to today’s standards, Dr. Peña says of the process to correct a progressive clouding of the lens.

Using the old process, doctors would make an injection around the eye, make an incision, take out the cataract, put a lens inside and then apply sutures. The process required a lengthy hospital stay, and was postponed for as long as possible. Cataract surgery today is performed as an outpatient procedure and takes only minutes.

“Now, I do the latest technique in cataract surgery, which means I don’t put any injections around the eye. There are no sutures or patches. It’s as simple as going in in the morning and getting out that same morning with a clear shield, seeing through the eye. There is no pain involved,” Peña said.

The Femtosecond laser from OptiMedica represents some of the latest technology for Cataract surgery. The Femtosecond laser makes corneal incisions to correct astigmatism, opens the anterior capsule and fragments the cataract. This technology is brand new and Dr. Peña is looking forward to utilizing it to help his cataract patients.

A graduate of McAllen High School, Peña went to Medical School in Monterrey, Mexico followed by two and a half years of Ophthalmology research at the Retina Institute of Maryland with doctors from Johns Hopkins. He did an Internal Medicine Residency at Texas A&M Scott and White Medical Center in Temple, TX. Followed by an Ophthalmology Residency at The University of Cincinnati Medical Center as Chief Resident in his third year.

He has served on the Board at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, and is currently on the hospital’s marketing committee. He has also been recognized as one of McAllen’s top-5 small businesses in 2010. He has been voted the Monitor’s Readers’ Choice Award for Favorite Ophthalmologist, along with the Valley Morning Star. In addition,  a Congressional Award for his service and dedication to his community.

To keep up with the latest evolutions in technology, Peña makes it a priority to attend groundbreaking sessions with the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, and the Caribbean Eye Conference, which are held annually at locations around the world.

It is at these events that he consults with those companies that are working and conducting research on how to make his practice better, safer and more precise for patients.

“I have always been eager to find the newest and best technology for my patients. I’m always looking at seeing what’s safer, and what is better. So what we do is we go and do our homework,” Dr. Peña said. “We go to the conferences, and over the lifespan that I have been in practice and even in residency, I have given plenty of talks at national conferences, presented papers, and even published studies on the eye when I was in Baltimore and Cincinnati because we were doing investigations when it came to ophthalmology research.

PenaEyeGraphic“We want to continue with studies, researching new medicines for the eyes, and to also keep up with the technology that is growing and growing.”

State investment for technology and budding entrepreneurs

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s Emerging Technology Fund, which provides assistance to technology startups, consortia, and Texas research institutions to expand the state economy, has awarded more than $203 million to innovators as of July 2013. Most of the awards, more than $110 million, have gone to startups or institutions in the biotechnology and life sciences statewide.

The region of South Texas has received about $34 million in incentives to startups, and the Gulf Coast sector has received more than $40 million.

In the Rio Grande Valley, the latest ETF recipient, FibeRio Technology Corporation, received more than $2.3 million in 2010 to develop nanofibers commercial applicability to companies around the world, FibeRio specializes in producing fibers one-one hundredth the size of a human hair used in nearly endless ways from filtration to wound care bandages.

Another startup, Photon8 was awarded $1 million in 2009 to research algae and its application as a potential biofuel, and to develop a business plan highly focused on Omega3, of which they are currently producing product samples into the nutraceutical industry. Those companies will then render Omega3 into products with potential health and medical benefits.

“By building relationships and working closely with Institutes of Higher Education, Economic Development Corporations, Investors and other stakeholders we should create more deal flow for our region.  And more deal flow means more industry and ultimately more jobs,” said Laurie Simmons, executive director of the Tropical Texas Regional Center of Commercialization (TTRCIC).

The Center is committed to helping passionate people with innovative ideas take their inventions, solutions, and products to market. Whether the idea is just unfolding or is in full-scale production, they can provide the necessary resources to protect the idea, develop it, fund it, and, eventually, commercialize it. The Center serves a 26-county region, providing mentoring, introductions to capital, research and academic resources, as well as business connections, with a passion for entrepreneurship.

“We connect start-up ventures with the right resources to grow their company,” said Simmons in a recent interview for RgVision. “Our goal is to inspire and support innovation and create a ‘entrepreneurial ecosystem’ in our region by providing all the services a start-up company needs to become successful.”

How to do it?

In a message to entrepreneurs’ emphasis on technology, Dr. Raul Peña said it is crucial that they meet the demand for clients and customers.

Dr. Peña said he performs thousands of surgeries each year including Cataract and IntraLASIK procedures.

“Always be on the leading edge. Always look for the best technology possible,” he said.  “First of all, love what you do. Second of all, do the best job possible and if that means finding the best technology, then do it. Then, it’s also making sure people know about that technology.”