Research to Prevent Blindness

RPB and AAO Award Grants for Big Data Research to Advance Patient Care

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (the Academy) and Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) today announced the first recipients of the Research to Prevent Blindness/American Academy of Ophthalmology Award for IRIS® Registry Research. The grant supports researchers who want to conduct population-based studies in ophthalmology and blindness prevention.

The two organizations created the grant to engage clinical researchers to use the power of the Academy’s IRIS Registry database to investigate the causes of both rare and common eye diseases, and to uncover innovative approaches to prevention and treatment. The IRIS Registry is the world’s largest medical specialty clinical database, having amassed data on 50 million patients.

Research to Prevent Blindness is a leading catalyst for research to eliminate blinding disease. Through its robust grants program, the nonprofit organization is associated with nearly every major breakthrough in the understanding and treatment of vision loss that has occurred in the past 50 years. 

Each grant, worth $35,000, provides recipients with a subset of the massive IRIS Registry database for analysis based on their study. Researchers also receive training on how to use the IRIS Registry’s analytic capabilities, as well as $10,000 in direct research funds. Results will be submitted for peer-reviewed publication within six months of study completion. 

These four clinical researchers were selected based on the potential of their original research to advance the Academy’s mission of improving patients’ lives through research and innovation:

Xueya Cai, PhD, research associate professor, University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry. Nearsightedness and farsightedness in children and young adults is on the rise. Dr. Cai will use the IRIS Registry database to examine what might be behind the increase. Dr. Cai will also look for new factors that could influence how these vision problems progress.

Sapna Gangaputra, MD, MPH, assistant professor, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Pediatric uveitis is a rare disease in the United States. It would be difficult and expensive to conduct a clinical trial to answer key questions about this potentially blinding disease. Dr. Gangaputra will use the IRIS Registry to learn how best to treat children with uveitis.

Jay Stewart, MD, professor, University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine. Dr. Stewart will use the IRIS Registry to examine whether a common diabetes medication, metformin, can reduce the incidence or slowdown the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Because inflammation is believed to play a role in AMD, the anti-inflammatory effects of metformin may be beneficial.

Elizabeth Vanner, PhD, scientist/biostatistician, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Ophthalmologists and their patients had hoped the landmark Tube Versus Trabeculectomy trial would settle the question of which surgical option is preferred for glaucoma: trabeculectomy or tubes and shuts. Dr. Vanner will use the IRIS Registry to gain more insight into the best treatment.

Launched in 2014, the IRIS Registry is the nation's first comprehensive eye disease clinical registry. The Academy developed this data-rich resource to empower ophthalmologists to effectively improve their practices, and to reveal patterns of disease and better approaches to their prevention and treatment.

“With more than 210 million patient visits recorded, the IRIS Registry database offers these grant winners an excellent opportunity to refine our knowledge of eye disease and help us improve our patients’ lives,” said David W. Parke II, MD, CEO for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “These researchers’ work promises to make significant contributions to ophthalmology.”

“We are very excited about the first round of grants associated with this award. Using the massive dataset that is the IRIS Registry will allow clinical researchers to combine a population health approach to vision research with the scientific rigor that is a hallmark of the RPB grants program,” said Brian Hofland, PhD, president of Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB). “On behalf of RPB and its Board of Trustees, I congratulate our first round of awardees and look forward to seeing the work that they will produce.”

Four more grants will be awarded in 2019. The application process will open Oct. 1, 2018. For more information, visit the Academy’s website.

About the American Academy of Ophthalmology

The American Academy of Ophthalmology is the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons. A global community of 32,000 medical doctors, we protect sight and empower lives by setting the standards for ophthalmic education and advocating for our patients and the public. We innovate to advance our profession and to ensure the delivery of the highest-quality eye care. Our EyeSmart® program provides the public with the most trusted information about eye health. For more information, visit

About Research to Prevent Blindness

Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) is the leading nonprofit organization supporting eye research directed at the prevention, treatment or eradication of all diseases that damage and destroy sight. As part of this purview, RPB also supports efforts to grow and sustain a robust and diverse vision research community. Since it was founded in 1960 by Dr. Jules Stein, RPB has awarded more than $357 million in research grants to the most talented vision scientists at the nation’s leading medical schools. As a result, RPB has been associated with nearly every major breakthrough in the understanding and treatment of vision loss in the past 50 years. Learn more at

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