New York, NY – May 2001 – With a $7.5 million gift to Columbia University, Russ Berrie, founder, chairman and CEO of Russ Berrie and Company, has helped launch the Berrie Family Diabetic Retinopathy Program to conduct an all-out collaborative attack on a common and devastating complication of diabetes – the loss of vision.
It is estimated that more than 16 million people in the United States have diabetes. Retinopathy, the restricted blood flow to the retina, threatens sight in many patients with diabetes. Because there are often no symptoms until visual loss is significant and because the benefits of tight blood sugar control have only recently been proved, diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in adults age 20-74. Nationally, diabetic retinopathy causes an estimated 12,000 to 24,000 new cases of blindness each year.
“The need to develop new strategies for saving vision is all the more critical because the prevalence of eye disease is growing in an increasingly aging population,” says Stanley Chang, M.D., Edward S. Harkness Professor of Ophthalmology and chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at Columbia University. “Several new non-invasive approaches to the treatment of retinopathy have resulted from research in recent years, including the use of Vitamin E, antihistamines, growth factors, and hypertension drugs. Clinical trials are needed to test the efficacy of some of these approaches alone and in combination, as well as other possible new therapies.”
The Berrie gift will be used to develop a model eye care program for patients with diabetes, recruit a basic scientist, and construct the Russ and Angelica Berrie Diabetic Retinopathy Research Laboratory. In addition, the Russell Berrie Diabetic Retinopathy Research Unit for clinical studies will be established as a component of the Louis V. Gerstner Jr. Clinical Research Center in Vision within the Department of Ophthalmology at Columbia University.
Employing the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center’s comprehensive and supportive approach to patient care with the Department of Ophthalmology’s expertise in the research and care of retinal disease, the Berrie Family Diabetic Retinopathy Program will apply the most advanced patient care techniques to the treatment of diabetic retinopathy and macular edema, will test the newest approaches to its treatment using a large and diverse patient base, and will study its basic mechanisms and causes with the hopes of developing improved interventions to slow its progression.
“Until 10 years ago, physicians did not have the tools to treat and prevent the visual loss that so often occurs in patients with diabetes,” says Robin Goland, M.D., Irving Associate Professor of Medicine and co-director of the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at Columbia University. “Although it is well known that visual loss often results from diabetes, it is not widely recognized that early detection and new treatments can halt or delay its development and progression.”
As part of the model eye care program, the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center and the Department of Ophthalmology plan to launch a Berrie Screening and Outreach Program to bring advanced eye examination technology for more effective screening to the many diabetic patients who do not seek annual eye examinations. The program will provide new, state-of-the-art digital photographic systems at the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center and at specific primary care affiliates located in Washington Heights. With Columbia’s advanced telemedicine capability, primary care physicians will be able to consult with the diabetes team at the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center as well as with experts at the Eye Institute regarding next steps in treatment. The program will also provide mobile photographic systems on a rotating basis for other community sites as well as NewYork-Presbyterian affiliated hospitals.
The Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center (www.nbdiabetes.org) is named after Berrie’s mother who, like her son, had diabetes. It was established in July 1997 and combines unprecedented family-centered patient care and education with world-class diabetes research programs. Located at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, the center hosts a renowned team of adult and pediatric diabetes experts including endocrinologists, educators, family counselors, nutritionists, podiatrists, and ophthalmologists.
Columbia’s Department of Ophthalmology is recognized worldwide for advancing eye care through scientific discovery. The first to use lasers in medicine, Columbia eye specialists also helped to develop key instrumentation for a more precise diagnosis of vision disorders, including the specular microscope and ultrasound, and were the first to use eximer lasers to correct nearsightedness and astigmatism. Columbia ophthalmologists developed and pioneered the use of perflourocarbon liquids for correcting complex retinal detachment, the substance Healon that is used worldwide to protect delicate tissue in the eye during surgery, and latanoprost, one of the most widely used drugs for treating glaucoma.
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