Let’s Chat About … Patient Registries and My Retina Tracker

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Join the My Retina Tracker® registry and you’ll be contributing to science by driving research to help improve your quality of life and to find treatments and cures for Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA) and other rare inherited retinal diseases (IRDs). 

The free and secure online registry launched six years ago by the Foundation Fighting Blindness is being updated and your feedback is needed. The organization currently is conducting a “user-experience” survey of its membership to glean new ideas to make the registry more effective for patients and for researchers, according to the Foundation’s Todd Durham

Now, through at least the end of June, you can contribute by taking the survey on the registry’s website and updating your profile. If you’re not already part of the registry, click here to join. The global registry has more than 18,000 members and is open to anyone with an inherited retinal condition and/or adult caregivers of children.

As the Foundation’s Vice President of Clinical & Outcomes Research, Durham is responsible for directing the organization’s Clinical Consortium of retinal experts, developing strategies to enhance product development, partnering with industry, and providing technical input on partnered programs and investment decisions.

The Foundation is the world’s leading private funder of retinal disease research and collaborates with patients, caregivers, researchers, and biopharmaceutical companies. That funding has been a driving force behind the progress toward cures, including the identification of more than 270 genes linked to retinal disease, and the launch of 42 clinical trials for potential treatments.

Durham discussed the patient registry and survey in our May webinar episode: “Let’s Chat About … Patient Registries and My Retina Tracker®.” Sofia Sees Hope Director of Marketing and Communications Elissa Bass moderates the free monthly webinar series. You can watch the webinar here

Durham earned a Bachelor of Science in Public Health, a master’s in biostatistics, and a PhD in health policy and management (Decision Science and Outcomes Research) from the University of North Carolina School of Global Public Health. He has more than 25 years of drug-development experience.

Understanding Patients and Retinal Disease Through Data

A patient registry is a planned collection of data around a disease. My Retina Tracker distinguishes itself from others by focusing on inherited retinal degenerations or diseases with the purpose to understand genetics, prevalence of conditions, and impacts of IRDs on individuals’ lives. 

The registry also enables researchers to find people for clinical trials, especially challenging work in the rare disease world of LCA and other IRDs.

Registry subsections include assistive devices, driving, visual symptoms, and the recently added “My Health Today,” a series of questions developed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to assess physical and mental health.

To become a member, click on ‘Register Now’ and follow the prompts to establish a username and password and to answer questions to build your personalized retinal health profile. You are then guided through a series of questionnaires developed by retinal clinicians, geneticists, genetic counselors, and rare inherited retinal disease researchers.

The registry becomes your personal retinal health record, updated by you and your doctors. Your history and testing results create a critical resource in tracking the progress of your disease and becoming part of a comprehensive database. It employs state-of-the-art technology to protect privacy and adheres to the highest standards of confidentiality and ethics.

Your disease information is accessible only to you, Foundation registry staff, and researchers who meet a rigorous scientific review application process to use the data for studies and to reach individuals to participate in clinical trials, Natural History studies, or focus groups. Your personal information is never shared with researchers.

It’s important to update your profile because the data unique to those living with LCA and other IRDs gives researchers a trove of opportunities for studies. The more complete the profile, the more likely you are to be contacted about a research opportunity. 

“Many of our research collaborators may approach us with a research idea and a certain criterion they want to apply to their study, and we use as much data in the profile as we can to help find the right target for that study,” Durham said. “As your vision changes, as your life situation changes, we’d like to know the milestones along the way. That’s informative information.”

Enhancing Patient Registries through Survey Feedback

An important improvement to the registry would be the ability to highlight to its members the research emanating from the information given by registrants. Completing the survey and giving specific feedback will help accomplish this.

“The key focus right now is delivering back to the members some information that they find useful, that shows that they are contributing to science.”

The Foundation also wants to engage its registry membership more regularly with information tailored to profiles.

“Speaking with a number of individuals involved with the Foundation, they say ‘it sure would be nice if when I tell you that my gene is, let’s say, EYS that you could tell me more about people like me.’ We’re looking into some ways that we can collect that data, put it in a way that’s understandable, digestible, presentable, and make that available to our membership, the registry.”

Results from the user-experience survey will be central in making the registry more valuable.

“As much as possible we really want folks’ feedback and, in this survey, we ask about their experience not just with the registry itself, but also with our genetic testing program, which many people have been able to take advantage of.

“We’re in a rapidly evolving research field; we’ve got new therapies coming all the time. To me, it’s important to put in mechanisms where we can learn along the way, and we’ll want to get as many indicators as possible.” 

Patient Registries: Making a Difference Through Research

Every month, six or seven researchers contact the Foundation for access to the registry, Durham said. One proposed study would look at patient experience with genetic testing and counseling

“How did that counseling session change the way they view their life, what impact did it have on them? This is very promising and interesting research. When we saw this, we thought this is very relevant for our members and for our community in general because we believe genetic testing is hugely important. 

“From my conversations with individuals, that moment when you have the clarity of a genetic diagnosis is kind of a day that you remember. It is now the time where I can at least ask the question, ‘what is the typical progression for folks like me? Are there research opportunities for me? What are the research prospects for people like me?’

“All this research can make a big impact.”

One project using registry data produced an analysis estimating the cost of illness for an IRD – an economic burden of up to $31.7 billion in the United States.

“When you see the paper as to the estimated cost to the U.S. of the IRDs, that study result came because people participated in the My Retina Tracker registry.” 

The Foundation plans to prepare reports or peer-reviewed publications out of the registry over the coming years to show the research community how much can be learned about what life is like with an IRD.

Patient Registries Put People at the Center of Research 

The registry also is an integral part of patient-focused drug development, a national concept organized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to put patients at the center of research. 

“This is a unique thing that the Foundation is doing to make sure we don’t lose sight that there are humans, there are people and lives that are impacted by research.” 

In a partnership as part of this patient-focused research, Sofia Sees Hope and the Foundation conducted intensive workshops on the CRB1 and IQCB1 genes that included the voices and perspectives of patients and their families, along with dozens of leading experts.

Another example of patient-centered research is the collaboration between the Foundation and the biopharmaceutical industry to study males with X-linked retinitis pigmentosa (XLRP), an incurable genetic disease that causes blindness in men and affects about one in 15,000 people.

“We’ll be surveying people through our registry and then convening a panel of experts and inviting the FDA to attend a workshop about results of the work and also inviting affected individuals and their caregivers to tell us what life is like with XLRP,” Durham said.

Living in a Time of Hope

Retinal research has come far, with more than 40 clinical trials underway.

“This is an exciting time, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say, which should be a great time of hope, because 10 years ago there were not a whole lot of treatments to talk about,” he said, “and now even as the Foundation stands, we struggle to keep up with all the latest news amongst therapy developers.”

Not all therapies work out, but researchers learn a lot in the process of product development.

Also, conditions once thought to have been impossible to treat now have multiple therapeutic approaches, with even more in the pipeline.

Durham said, for example, neuroprotection, which is the relative preservation of neuronal structure and/or function, and neuroprosthetics,* implantable medical devices that provide some degree of vision to people with blindness.

“If we can just slow down the further degeneration of the photo receptors that could be really helpful, that could add hopefully years to vision. Gene therapy has the potential in many cases to restore vision that was lost. And you have even new technologies for later-stage disease, like (visual) neuroprosthetics.

“It’s pretty amazing technology that’s coming out.”

Foundation Fighting Blindness launches new Natural History Study for Usher Sydrome. Read more here.

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