NEI-Funded Research Develops Improved Detection Techniques to Diagnose Glaucoma, Which Disproportionately Affects African Americans

April 21, 2005
CONTACT: James F. Jorkasky
Executive Director
[email protected]

NEI-Funded Research Develops Improved Detection Techniques to Diagnose Glaucoma, Which Disproportionately Affects African Amercans

Briefing speakers Dr. Christopher Girkin (left) and Cassandra Page (right) join Goodloe Sutton, legislative assistant to Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL)

(Washington, DC) Today, in a Congressional Briefing entitled Glaucoma Detection and Treatment sponsored by the Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (AEVR), National Eye Institute (NEI)-funded researcher Dr. Christopher Girkin (University of Alabama at Birmingham, UAB) announced that research into the physiology of the optic nerve in African Americans is resulting in better techniques to detect the disease, which will impact current and future screening programs and subsequent treatment strategies. Vision loss from glaucoma occurs when the optic nerve is damaged, in most cases associated with elevated pressure within the eye. Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in African Americans, who are more than three times likely to develop it than White Americans.

Providing an update of the NEI-sponsored African Americans with Glaucoma Study about one-and-one-half years into the five-year study, Girkin stated that, “Improved detection techniques can determine at-risk characteristics of the optic nerve and better define the progressive changes that occur in the disease. Earlier detection results not only in earlier diagnosis, but will also have an impact on the clinical practice patterns in treatment of the disease.” Girkin noted that the NEI-funded Ocular Hypertension Treatment Study has already shown that pressure-reducing drops can delay or prevent the onset of disease.

UAB colleague Cassandra Page spoke about the importance of outreach to the African American churches in the Birmingham area to recruit study participants, as prior research into physiological differences in the optic nerve have not been conducted in as large of a study population.

Congressman Artur Davis (D-AL) provided an introduction to the event and emphasized the importance of Congressional support for medical research generally, as well as that into health disparities, specifically. “You spend money on what you value, and our nation needs to invest in the health of all of its citizens,” said Cong. Davis. AEVR Executive Director James Jorkasky concluded by noting NEI’s leadership on health disparities research in relation to vision, citing studies NEI has co-sponsored with the National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities (NCMHD).

Dr. Girkin is an Associate Professor and Director, Glaucoma Service, in the Department of Ophthalmology at the Callahan Eye Foundation Hospital at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Ms. Page is the Administrative Coordinator for UAB’s Glaucoma Service. UAB is one of three sites involved in the African Americans with Glaucoma Study , including the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary and the University of California at San Diego.

ARVO is a founding member of the National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (NAEVR), a non-profit advocacy coalition comprised of nearly 50 professional, consumer and industry organizations involved in eye and vision research. NAEVR’s goal is to achieve the best vision for all Americans through advocacy and public education for eye and vision research sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Eye Institute (NEI) and other federal research entities. Visit NAEVR’s Web site at