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Part of the big picture: Team takes part in large-scale studies aimed at improving treatments for eye disorders in children around the world

Treating children with eye diseases is a rewarding experience for pediatric ophthalmologists. But depending on the disease, it can be difficult to know exactly which treatment will be most successful.

As she determines the best treatment for patient Lauren Proffitt, Jill Anderson, M.D., draws upon her own experience and the experience of ophthalmologists across the continent through the PEDIG database.

At times like this, it helps to know which treatments have worked best for other children with the same condition.

This is why the pediatric team in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Ophthalmology— which regularly collaborates with colleagues within the department, in the University’s Medical School, and at other University centers and schools—also collaborates with pediatric ophthalmologists across North America by contributing to a multi-institution database called PEDIG, or the Pediatric Eye Disease Investigator Group, so that answers to common clinical questions can be found faster.

The PEDIG database contains critical information about which treatments have resulted in the best outcomes for various eye diseases in children at more than 60 sites in the United States and Canada.

“PEDIG has a huge patient base, and study sites are added all the time, so these studies give us a great deal of information and help answer important treatment questions in a relatively short period of time,” says Ann Holleschau, the department’s pediatric study coordinator.

For the past 10 years, large-scale clinical research studies have been conducted through PEDIG using patient data from a network of more than 120 pediatric ophthalmologists and optometrists in North America. This network has helped to answer important research questions related to treating strabismus (misalignment of the eyes), amblyopia (sometimes called “lazy eye” ), and other eye disorders that affect children.

“We are fortunate to be actively involved in a well-recognized group that has found meaningful results that we can use in the clinic every day to treat patients,” says professor of ophthalmology C. Gail Summers, M.D.

PEDIG studies of amblyopia, for example, “have given us confidence that treatment options such as patching the good eye or using eye drops to blur the vision in the good eye will strengthen the weak, amblyopic eye,” Summers continues. Research studies have examined the frequency of treatment for amblyopia, as well as treatment for older children and options for discontinuing treatment.

Also collaborating on the University’s PEDIG related studies are pediatric ophthalmologists Jill Anderson, M.D.; Erick Bothun, M.D.; Stephen Christiansen, M.D.; and department orthoptists.

Christiansen served as protocol chair for the Esotropia Treatment Study coordinated by PEDIG. (Esotropia is a form of strabismus in which one or both of the eyes turn inward.) The results of that study showed that doctors did not have to wait for alignment to become stable before considering surgery, Christiansen says.

Other clinical research studies currently being conducted by the pediatric team are focused on finding new ways to treat amblyopia that hasn’t responded to conventional treatments and on measuring the thickness of the cornea and pressure inside the eye.

Although getting these studies going requires a good deal of time and effort, it’s well worth the investment, Summers says, for one simple reason: “What we learn makes a huge difference in the care we can provide for our patients.”

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