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Dr Jennifer Sun Discusses the Importance of Diversity in Trials to Identify Biomarkers for Diabetic Eye Disease

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There is a concerted effort to identify biomarkers to understand the risk of progression of diabetic eye disease, but many studies have not been performed in diverse populations, explained Jennifer K. Sun, MD, MPH, associate professor of ophthalmology and chief of the Center for Clinical Eye Research and Trials, Harvard Medical School; and chair, DRCR Retina Network.

There is a concerted effort to identify biomarkers to understand the risk of progression of diabetic eye disease, but many studies have not been performed in diverse populations, explained Jennifer K. Sun, MD, MPH, associate professor of ophthalmology and chief of the Center for Clinical Eye Research and Trials, Harvard Medical School; and chair, DRCR Retina Network.

Transcript

You recently published on the need to study circulatory biomarkers in a more diverse population. Can you explain the issue of the lack of study into the performance of biomarkers in racially and ethnically diverse populations?

There's a huge unmet need for biomarkers that may help us better understand risk of progression and worsening of diabetic eye disease in our patients. Right now, we don't have great ways to predict who may lose vision, who may develop more advanced complications, aside from our classic Early Treatment Diabetic Retinopathy Study scale, which only looks at the vascular lesions of diabetes and doesn't include the entire retina, and it doesn't at all include things like neural retinal disease or visual function or the molecular pathways that may lead to disease.

I think there's a concerted effort going on these days, and some of this is being stood up by a project known as the Mary Tyler Moore Vision Initiative. The late Mary Tyler Moore was a remarkable film and TV actress who had type 1 diabetes who served as a very strong advocate for patients with diabetes throughout her life, and she lost a lot of vision because of diabetic retinopathy. So, in her honor and her memory, her husband Robert Levine has started a project trying to create platforms to help accelerate research and development of new therapeutics and preventions in the area of diabetic retinal disease.

As part of this we also recognize that many of our studies have been performed in populations that are not as diverse as we would ideally like to see. I think in future studies, looking across racially/ethnically diverse populations is really important, because we need to understand: Do biomarkers behave the same way across populations? How do we know when we can generalize the results of one study to global populations who may have very large needs in terms of diabetic retinopathy prevention and treatment?

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