American Academy of Ophthalmology, Research to Prevent Blindness announce grant recipients

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According to the Academy and RPB, the grant recipients will use the IRIS Registry database to improve the diagnosis and treatment of eye disease.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology and Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) have announced the recipients of the Research to Prevent Blindness/American Academy of Ophthalmology Award for IRIS Registry Research.

According to the organizations, the grant supports researchers who want to conduct population-based studies in ophthalmology and blindness prevention.

The grants are worth $35,000 and provide recipients with a subset of the massive IRIS Registry database for analysis based on their study. Researchers also receive training on how to use the IRIS Registry’s analytic capabilities, as well as $10,000 in direct research funds.

Results will be submitted for peer-reviewed publication within six months of study completion.

According the Academy and RPB, the grants were created to help clinical researchers use the power of the Academy’s IRIS Registry database to investigate the causes of both rare and common eye diseases and to uncover innovative approaches to prevention and treatment. The IRIS Registry is the world’s largest medical specialty clinical database, having amassed data on 60 million patients.

David W. Parke II, MD, CEO for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, pointed out that amassing a rich database is only part of the equation.

“To reveal patterns of disease and better approaches to their prevention and treatment, you must also ask the right questions,” Parke said in a statement. “This year’s recipients have asked great questions. We look forward to learning the insights their analyses provide.”

Four clinical researchers were selected based on the potential of their original research to advance the Academy’s mission of improving patients’ lives through research and innovation. They incluyde:

Ta Chen Peter Chang, MD, associate professor, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute.

Because glaucoma occurs in children at a much lower rate than in adults, ophthalmologists and parents don’t have as much data to guide treatment options. Unlike adults, children are commonly treated with surgery. Dr. Chang will leverage the IRIS Registry database to evaluate treatment options for children, as well as the outcomes of those treatments. According to the AAO, this kind of data analysis may also help ease the financial burden of childhood glaucoma, which costs about $21,442 annually per child.

Jennifer Patnaik, PhD, assistant professor, University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Acanthamoeba keratitis is a rare and potentially blinding eye condition. Early diagnosis is a challenge because it’s rare and the symptoms can vary. Additionally, no single, effective chemotherapeutic treatment currently exists. Dr. Patnaik will use the IRIS Registry to better understand and improve diagnosis and treatment of Acanthamoeba keratitis.

Andrew Williams, MD, assistant professor, University of Pittsburgh.

It’s long been known that patients with glaucoma are prone to skipping follow-up exams, which puts them at increased risk for vision loss. But what is the true extent of this problem? Dr. Williams will use the IRIS Registry to conduct a large-scale study to better understand patient adherence with follow-up exams, as well as the effect on their vision.

Nakul Shekhawat, MD, MPH, assistant professor, Johns Hopkins University. 

Herpes Zoster, or shingles, can lead to painful and sometimes blinding consequences if it spreads to the nerves in the eye. Dr. Shekhawat will use the IRIS Registry to evaluate the effectiveness of different medications. An analysis based on patient age may help refine or uphold shingles vaccination recommendations.

"These awards are helping to increase the number of vision researchers who have skill and experience in using the IRIS registry as well as to further the key role of big data in the vision science field,” Brian F. Hofland, PhD, president of RPB, said in a statement. “We are pleased to partner again with the Academy on this effort to enable researchers to address important issues in the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases."

According to the Academy, four more grants will be awarded in 2022. The application process will open November 2021. For more information, visit the Academy’s website.