Written by: Jessica Martindale
Media contact: Adam Pope
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 3.4 million Americans age 40 years or older are blind or visually impaired. Other estimates suggest that nearly 80 million Americans have potentially blinding eye diseases.
These types of diseases can be debilitating for patients and their families, and more research into developing new treatments is desperately needed. This is why the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences Clinical Research Unit, or CRU, is dedicated to identifying causative mechanisms, factors that elevate risk for disease, and possible interventions that could prevent or treat disease.
Under the direction of Cynthia Owsley, Ph.D., the Nathan E. Miles Endowed Chair of Ophthalmology, the mission of UAB Ophthalmology’s CRU is to provide research infrastructure for patient-oriented research in the areas of eye disease and vision impairment so that UAB investigators — both faculty and trainees — can develop high-quality research programs while enhancing existing programs.
“The ultimate goal of the CRU is to help patients living with vision-threatening conditions as well as patients coping with irreversible vision impairment,” Owsley said. “Our mission, simply stated, is conducting research to prevent blindness.”
Patient-oriented research consists of several types of research, including: observational study designs, clinical trials, health services research (research on the organization of eye care services in terms of their quality, accessibility and cost-effectiveness), health policy research (research evaluating the impact of health policy and changes in those policies on patient outcomes and societal cost), qualitative research (information from patients and providers about barriers and enablers to care and health-related quality of life), translational research (proof-of-concept studies where basic laboratory findings are transitioned to the development of safe and efficacious treatments for patients) and research using tissue samples from deceased patients (donor eyes).
The resources available in the CRU are tailored to the needs of eye research — the unique study designs, patient characteristics and co-morbidities, specialized testing procedures and instruments, biostatistical approaches, and theoretical frameworks. Having a clinical research resource completely devoted to eye research gives the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences a competitive edge for grant applications, key discoveries, and translation of results.
“The researchers and the clinicians in ophthalmology work side by side, which enhances the significance and translation of our research outcomes,” Owsley said.