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Some Solutions Are Elegantly Low-Tech

SriniVas Sadda, MD

President & Chief Scientific Officer

I’m excited to share some important advances in the field that are the result of international collegial cooperation, intelligence and good humor. Tech can be magic, but in some cases, good old-fashioned talk is all that’s needed to move things forward.

Over the years, I’d noticed that progress on retina research seemed to get stuck at conferences, in communications, and in research, because eye experts around the world use different names for layers of cells in the retina — which they believe have slightly different functions. This disconnect has been going on for decades. It seemed to me some really big questions in the research, potentially impacting millions of peoples’ eyesight, were slowed by this disconnect.

So a few of us decided to try to solve this problem, because we believe there’s so much good tech in place today that the language issue should be eliminated as a barrier to accelerating the research. We decided to try a consensus-building initiative.

Ultimately, 35 retina experts/colleagues from five continents agreed to participate. We asked each one to do some homework: name 15 structures of the eye and then show up at the meeting and present a case, with evidence. At the gathering in Venice, it turned out that about five of the structures were highly contentious. Doctors and researchers with strong opinions and years of expertise took each other on, but followed some ground rules, and finally we came to a consensus.

This year we’ll use the same consensus-building model to work on another issue in the field: clearly defining the onset of the final stages of atrophy in macular degeneration. Millions of dollars in research and development and pharmaceutical spending are at stake around that question. I look forward to working with colleagues and settling on a medical definition to help ensure that progress in the research and treatment of macular degeneration happens where it matters most to patients.

Appreciating that some solutions are delivered with low tech efficiency was a good reminder for me that no matter how rarefied the research, relationships, conversations and good will can produce meaningful research breakthroughs too.

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