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4. Initiating a national Glaucoma Research Network for major clinical studies

Drs. Boland, Friedman, and Ramulu

Members of the GCE are developing and expanding a new approach to research that has been successfully begun in pediatric and retinal ophthalmic research. Even the largest glaucoma studies have been carried out at a relatively small number of institutions, allowing tight control but restricting the number and types of patients who are able to participate.  It is also inefficient for each study to create its own research infrastructure (staff, space, equipment) only to have it dismantled after the study is complete. To overcome these problems, we will create a permanent network of research infrastructure distributed across the United States and around the world.

When fully implemented, the Glaucoma Research Network (GRN) will consist of a coordinating center at the Wilmer Eye Institute and many participating institutions, both academic and private practices. The coordinating center will include the GRN principal investigators as well as the staff needed for the day-to-day operations of clinical trials and the information technology to collect, store, and analyze research data. The computer infrastructure will play the key role of allowing geographically distributed sites to be connected to the coordinating center, thereby facilitating broad-based collaboration.

The GRN currently consists of investigators from The Wilmer Eye Institute and five other major eye centers along the East coast.  The six initial institutions are working on two projects to demonstrate the benefits of this model for research. First, we have created the largest database of visual field tests ever assembled, to better understand how glaucoma produces visual damage. Second, we are conducting a randomized, controlled clinical trial comparing two devices commonly employed in glaucoma implant surgery.  These studies are, individually, important contributions, but will permit development of a research network for continued future collaboration.  Third, the other priority research areas of the GCE will utilize the GRN as a mechanism to broaden the reach of research projects.

The initial GRN has been funded by $150,000 in donated funds to the GCE, and we seek funding to expand the network and to carry out the next phase of projects.  Ongoing infrastructure costs in the initial phases are estimated at $200,000 per year.  Support for the GRN represents a leveraged investment in the future of glaucoma knowledge as the network will soon make initial applications for support of its mechanism and initial projects from N.I.H.

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