EDC Faculty Goundappa K. Balasubramani, Ph.D., and Stephen R. Wisniewski, Ph.D. to lead $15.2 million NIH Grant for Glaucoma Laser Study

Sep 24, 2020 | News

University of Pittsburgh ($12.7) and West Virginia University ($2.5) Receive $15.2 Million NIH Grant for Glaucoma Laser Study

SLT has developed 20 years ago and is still performed today precisely as it was first described.

Researchers 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 Institutes of Health. The research team consists of Goundappa K. Balasubramani, Ph.D., Research Associate Professor, Department of Epidemiology and Stephen R. Wisniewski, Ph.D., Professor of Epidemiology and Vice Provost for Data and Information, University of Pittsburgh and Dr. Tony Realini, MD, MPH, Professor of Ophthalmology, and glaucoma specialist at WVU. The Epidemiology Data Center at the University of Pittsburgh, will provide logistical support. Together, the team seeks to identify the best way to perform laser surgery to treat glaucoma.

The COAST study will include over 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. 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. 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.

“The 5-minute low-energy laser procedure once a year effectively lowers eye pressure without the daily hassle and side effects of daily medical therapy, minimizing the impact of this terrible disease and its treatment on our patients’ quality of life.” 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”.

Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the world. The condition causes slow, painless vision loss over many years. While there is no cure, proper treatment can delay or prevent vision loss in most patients. “Treatment consists of lowering the pressure inside the eye, which is elevated in most patients and causes damage that takes away patients’ vision.” Laser therapy—called Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty, or SLT—is an effective and safe treatment to lower eye pressure. A recent study conducted in the United Kingdom demonstrated that SLT is at least as safe and effective as medical therapy, which has been the go-to treatment of choice for decades.

Glaucoma clogs the drain of the eye, causing eye fluid to back up, raising eye pressure. “SLT unclogs the drain, which lowers eye pressure, but over time glaucoma reclogs the drain and the pressure goes back up.” When that happens, SLT can be performed again, but over time, its effect diminishes and medical therapy becomes necessary.

There are important limitations to their use of eye drop medications to treat glaucoma. “They have side effects that bother patients, such as irritation, stinging, and chronically red eyes. They can be expensive.

But most of all, they only work if you put them in every day, in some cases several times a day, and dozens of studies have taught us that most patients do not faithfully adhere to their medication regimen daily as prescribed.”