National Eye Institute grant funding low-energy laser treatment study

February 9, 2021
David Hutton

Investigators from the University of Pittsburgh and West Virginia University will collaborate on an international glaucoma laser study funded with a combined $15.2 million grant.

Investigators at the University of Pittsburgh and at West Virginia University (WVU) will collaborate on an International Glaucoma Laser Study funded with a combined $15.2 million grant from the National Eye Institute, a part of the National Institutes of Health.

The research team consists of Goundappa K. Balasubramani, PhD, research associate professor, Department of Epidemiology and Stephen R. Wisniewski, PhD, professor of Epidemiology and vice provost for Data and Information, University of Pittsburgh; and Anthony Realini, MD, MPH, professor of ophthalmology and a glaucoma specialist at WVU.

According a news release, the long-term goal is to identify the best way to use SLT to control patients’ glaucoma for the longest possible time, sparing them the many limitations associated with the daily dosing of eye drop medications.

Like eye drops, SLT also treats glaucoma by lowering eye pressure, but the procedure may only need to be performed once a year, allowing patients freedom from a daily treatment regimen.

“The eye drops only work if you put them in every day, in some cases several times a day,” Balasubramani said in a statement. “Dozens of studies have taught us that most patients do not faithfully adhere to their medication regimen daily as prescribed.”

By identifying the best way to perform SLT to effectively manage glaucoma without eye drops, the researchers hope this study will change patients’ lives for the better. The study—a randomized clinical trial called “Clarifying the Optimal Application of SLT” or COAST—will compare standard SLT to low energy SLT and will also compare retreatment performed as needed when the effect wears off to retreatment annually to maintain eye pressure control without the need for medical therapy.

The COAST study will include more than 600 patients and will be conducted at up to 20 research centers. As principal investigators, Drs. Wisniewski and Balasubramani at the University of Pittsburgh will oversee the data collection, management, and analysis of data collected at each site. As the clinical investigator, Dr. Realini’s responsibilities include the development of the research protocol, identification of the study sites, and general oversight of the study as it is conducted over up to 7 years.

“Our hope is that a brief low-energy laser procedure performed in the office once a year will effectively lower eye pressure without the hassle, expense, and side effects of daily medical therapy,” Realini said in a statement.

Patients will receive the laser treatment and their progress will be monitored over time. If the results of the trial are positive, the treatment plan for patients suffering from glaucoma could change for good.

“Our goal is to reduce the impact of this disease while improving patients’ quality of life,” Dr. Wisniewski said in a statement.

“If we validate an SLT treatment strategy that extends the duration of medication-free disease control, we move one step closer to the possibility of a drop-free lifetime for our patients,” Realini concluded.

The research team also includes Michael Kass, MD, a renowned Glaucoma specialist and researcher at Washington University in Saint Louis, Gus Gazzard, MD, who conducted the UK SLT study, and Mark Latina, MD, who invented SLT.