Dr Jennifer Sun: Evidence to Treat Diabetic Eye Diseases Stems From DRCR Retina Network Studies


Much of the evidence that has been used to base current standard of care for diabetic eye diseases stems from studies performed by the DRCR Retina Network over the years.

The studies performed by the DRCR Retina Network has provided much of the evidence that has informed current standard of care for diabetic eye diseases, 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.

Sun presented data from one of the DRCR Retina Network protocols during the Angiogenesis, Exudation, and Degeneration 2023 meeting.


What is the purpose of the DRCR Retina Network and its various protocols?

I serve as chair for the diabetes studies for the DRCR Retina Network, and the network is a consortium of sites across North America—in the United States and Canada—that's federally supported by the National Institutes of Health, the National Eye Institute, and we've received funding from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, as well, to perform clinical research in retinal disease.

Our strength has typically been large, multicenter clinical trials—particularly phase 3 studies, but we've also performed earlier phase studies. The first 15 years of our existence was devoted to studies in diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema. The network performed a number of studies that, I think, have really helped to shape the current treatment of diabetic eye disease in patients today.

And given our success from some of those studies, we were given the ability to expand our scope in 2017 to non–diabetic retinal diseases. So, my cochair Dan Martin, from Cole Eye Institute at Cleveland Clinic, leads those studies.

The purpose of our protocols is really to determine what are the best treatments, managements, and what are the questions that need answering for better scientific understanding in order to advance the development of new therapeutics for retinal diseases in general.

We focused primarily on diabetic retinopathy, again, for the first decade and a half of our existence, but we're now standing up studies in non–diabetic eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration, macular holes, and others.

Should physicians and payers be using the protocols as guidelines for treatment decisions?

I think what comes out of our protocols is the evidence upon which guidelines are created. I think the data from our studies has really been quite influential in shaping then-preferred practice patterns from the American Academy of Ophthalmology and from the American Diabetes Association. Our studies are included in many of the American Academy of Ophthalmology basic science course books that are used to train our residents and our future ophthalmologists.

When you look at the standard of care—for particularly diabetic eye disease, these days—you can really look to see how diabetic macular edema is managed, how proliferative diabetic retinopathy is managed, and in each of those guidelines, you can almost pinpoint a DRCR Retina Network study that's been performed in the past that's provided the evidence to perform treatment in that way.

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