AEVR Celebrates World Glaucoma Week with Congressional Briefing

Leon Herndon, MD (Duke University Medical Center)
Leon Herndon, MD (Duke University Medical Center)

Click here to view a video of the briefing

On March 8, the Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (AEVR) celebrated World Glaucoma Week by conducting its first virtual Research Saving Sight, Restoring Vision Congressional Briefing of 2022, Understanding Glaucoma Patients: Health Disparities and Unmet Needs. AEVR’s Research Saving Sight, Restoring Vision Initiative is a sustained activity to educate about the value of eye and vision research and the enormous strides that National Eye Institute (NEI) funded research has made to establish improvements to diagnosis, treatments, therapies, and outcomes for eye and vision care.

The Briefing featured experts in glaucoma, including Dr. Leon Herndon, professor of ophthalmology at Duke University Medical Center, Tom Brunner, President & CEO of the Glaucoma Research Foundation, and Dr. Trinh Green, a practicing physician who was diagnosed with glaucoma at the age of 21.

Glaucoma is the second leading cause of preventable vision loss in the United States affecting more than 2.7 million Americans over the age of 40. It is a neurological disease affecting pressure around the optic nerve causing vision loss, and ultimately blindness. With estimates showing Americans living with glaucoma will double by the year 2050, more research continues to be needed to address the looming vision crisis in the United States. Patients with glaucoma often don’t know they have it until they have already lost vision, which is why early diagnosis and intervention are vital. Certain characteristics such as age, ethnicity, high intraocular pressure (IOP), and optic nerve structure are associated with disease development. Groups at the highest risk for glaucoma include Black Americans over age 40, individuals over age 60, and those with a family history of the disease.

After outlining an introduction to glaucoma, Dr. Herndon shared that the prevalence of glaucoma is six to eight times higher in African American patients who are also at fifteen times higher risk of blindness. He also shared that glaucoma has several consequences on a patient’s vision, including not only the loss of visual field creating blind spots, but also a loss of contrast sensitivity, loss of visual acuity, and problems with glare and light sensitivity.

Tom Brunner, President & CEO, Glaucoma Research Foundation
Tom Brunner, President & CEO, Glaucoma Research Foundation

Once a patient is diagnosed with glaucoma, Dr. Herndon emphasized that medication adherence is vital in stemming the tide of the disease. Treatments for glaucoma include traditional eye drops, and over the past several years, advancements and other treatments have been identified and include injectable sustained-release implants, laser treatment, surgical procedures, long-tube shunts, and micro-invasive glaucoma surgery. As part of his work in West Africa, Dr. Herndon’s research on the genetic links related to glaucoma may lay the foundation for novel therapeutic interventions and increase awareness of glaucoma.

Health disparities that exist for patients, disparities in the ophthalmology profession, and disparities in accessing critical glaucoma care were all identified as issues that need to be addressed and improved. He highlighted that Medicaid patients receive less glaucoma testing than those with commercial health insurance with disparities present across all races, but most dramatic among Black Americans. Dr. Herndon advised exploring possible etiologies for these disparities to help identify solutions and encouraged elevating awareness of disparities in care and outcomes among ophthalmologists.

Tom Brunner introduced participants to the Glaucoma Research Foundation whose mission is to cure glaucoma and restore vision through innovative research. Mr. Brunner provided a global perspective of glaucoma emphasizing that this disease has no cure.  With an estimated 60 million cases worldwide, and an estimated 111 million people globally expected to have glaucoma by 2040, the global figures mirror those projections in the United States. With this understanding, and to address the looming epidemic, Mr. Brunner emphasized the need to continue to invest in promising research to improve outcomes for glaucoma patients.

Trinh Green, MD,  Glaucoma Research Foundation Patient Representative
Trinh Green, MD, Glaucoma Research Foundation Patient Representative

From a patient perspective, Dr. Trinh Green shared her personal experience with Glaucoma. When she was diagnosed at 21, she was being monitored for a different eye condition. At that time, her ophthalmologist noticed the markers of glaucoma. For the first seven years after her diagnosis, Dr. Green focused on taking eye drops and didn’t experience substantial loss in vision. At 28, Dr. Green shared that she began losing vision in her left eye and was advised to have a trabeculectomy to create a new pathway for fluid to be drained to save her eyesight. In subsequent years, despite adherence and continued engagement with specialists, Dr. Green continued to lose peripheral vision.

Treatments for Dr. Green have included revisions to her trabeculectomy, express shunts and Ahmed valves inserted into her eyes, a laser diode cyclophotocoagulation procedure, and a corneal graft to address side effects. Advancements in research have helped to improve these interventions and they have continued to allow Dr. Green to see. While Dr. Green shared that she has lost about 50% of the vision in her left eye and some vision in her right, she’s been fortunate that her central vision is still very good. While glaucoma affected Dr. Green’s dreams, her day-to-day life, and her career path, the research that has been done on glaucoma to date has helped provide new and innovative interventions and therapies, and she emphasized the continued need for research for herself, and for future generations.

Each of the panelists emphasized the value that research has played to date and the new opportunities on the horizon. The National Eye Institute (NEI) is funding research projects including artificial intelligence to improve diagnosis, improved clinical methods, and for new and improved interventions, devices, and therapies that preserve sight and could restore vision.

AEVR was pleased to be able to host this Congressional Briefing during World Glaucoma Week, which is being celebrated March 6-12, 2022 with events around the world.  The Briefing continued to highlight the value for eye and vision research in the care of glaucoma patients and AEVR thanks its supporters who helped make this event possible, including:

Research to Prevent Blindness, the American Glaucoma Society, the Glaucoma Research Foundation, the Optometric Glaucoma Society, with streaming support provided by the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO), and event support provided by Glaukos.