Two of the country’s leading eye research institutions founded and based in Dallas — Texas Retina Associates (TRA) and the Retina Foundation of the Southwest (RFSW) — have recently opened new offices under the same roof. The new facilities are located at 9600 N. Central Expressway in Dallas, at the southeast corner of N. Central Expressway and Walnut Hill Lane in Central Dallas, and were custom designed to meet the needs of each organization.
While separate, TRA physicians and RFSW scientists have worked closely together for more than 30 years to identify new treatments for retina conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, retinitis pigmentosa and uveitis — leading causes of vision loss in millions of people throughout the world. The goal of sharing this recently renovated building is to provide patients with more immediate, expanded and direct access to breakthrough treatments and clinical trials for these retina conditions and many others. Both facilities were custom-designed for optimal patient care and research utility.
About TRA and RFSW
Established in 1966, Texas Retina Associates, with 13 offices throughout the state and 17 retina-fellowship-trained physicians, is Texas’ largest, most experienced ophthalmology practice focused specifically on the diagnosis and medical and surgical management of diseases of the retina and vitreous. The practice’s sub-specialized physician team has participated in more than 75 national clinical trials over the past 20 years, bringing the newest retina and vitreous treatments to its patients.
Also based in Dallas, the Retina Foundation of the Southwest is an independent, non-profit research institute established in 1982. The Foundation has grown into one of the leading independent vision research centers in the United States, with a staff of 28 dedicated to finding the causes, treatments and potential cures for numerous eye diseases that cause severe visual impairment. Patients are referred by ophthalmologists from Dallas and around the U.S. and even the world. Because the center is funded by philanthropic support and research grants, patients receive care at no cost.
A New Model for Medical Research
Even though Texas Retina Associates and the Retina Foundation of the Southwest are separate organizations with separate doors, leaders of both have shared close ties for years and believe that being under the same roof will allow them to work more collaboratively and efficiently, attracting additional research studies to the Dallas community, especially from pharmaceutical companies developing promising new treatments.
Karl Csaky, M.D., Ph.D, serves as a vitreoretinal specialist at TRA as well as the T. Boone Pickens Senior Scientist and Director of the Molecular Ophthalmology Laboratory at the RFSW.
“In the last five to 10 years, as medicine has become more efficient, a void has emerged in patient-oriented research,” explains Dr. Csaky. “Many of the traditional academic research institutions have been forced to cut back, and they also face great challenges in meeting pharmaceutical companies’ demands for efficiency. Moving Texas Retina Associates and the Retina Foundation of the Southwest into the same building allows us to operate even more efficiently than we have been. We will be better able to meet those demands, and we can more quickly and easily translate research from the lab to patient care. I think others are going to look to us as a new model to replicate across the country.”
Retina Foundation of the Southwest Chief Scientific and Executive Officer David G. Birch, M.D., concurs. “We are one of the only independent eye research facilities in the world and a key player in the international effort to combat severe visual impairment,” he said. “Our independence from a major medical institution gives us tremendous flexibility to respond to new opportunities in research and fluctuations in funding.”
Another primary reason for the move was to ease convenience for patients who are involved in clinical trials through both organizations, allowing them to receive all the care, testing and treatment they need in the same building.
Dallas — An Epicenter of Emerging Developments in Retina Care
While the field of retina care and research has evolved tremendously in the past 20 years, both TRA and RFSW leaders believe they still have a lot of work to do.
“In our field, there are so many unmet needs, and as a physician, one of the most frustrating things is to have to tell a patient there is nothing we can do,” said Dr. Csaky. “Now we have a facility that allows us to push the envelope on our knowledge and understanding of retina diseases, as well as how to treat those conditions in the most efficient manner.”
TRA vitreoretinal specialist and RFSW board member David Callanan, M.D., also believes the new proximity between the two organizations will allow each to maximize their strengths to improve sight preservation. “There are more than 100 different ophthalmology diseases that affect the retina, and many of the current treatments are woefully inadequate,” he explains. “Patients are desperate for new and better treatments, and through our combined efforts, we hope to attract even more trials to the Greater Dallas community, especially the early Phase 1 and Phase 2 trials.”
A couple of the most exciting collaborative research developments in progress include:
1) A more in-depth understanding of what exactly is wrong in patients with age-related macular degeneration and how anatomical retina changes affect their vision. Dallas-based research is focused on developing more specialized tests that measure the earliest retina function and anatomy changes beyond just basic vision such as how the retina functions in dim light. This will allow retina physicians to create more individualized treatments as well as more rapid assessments.
2) New drug delivery devices and implants such as a contact lens that can deliver time-released medication directly to the eye, avoiding many of the systemic issues associated with drugs that must travel through the bloodstream.
In addition, the RFSW is one of the only centers conducting FDA-approved research with adult stem cells that could lead to a fundamental change in how physicians approach atrophic age-related macular degeneration.
Past Groundbreaking Medical Eye Research Conducted in Dallas
In addition to clinical trials that have contributed to advances in treatment for macular and retinal disease, past groundbreaking discoveries from the Retina Foundation of the Southwest include:
Discovered that DHA in mother’s milk is necessary for infant eye and brain development. Enhanced formula containing DHA is now sold worldwide.
Proved that cataracts should be removed in infants to enable normal visual development
Discovered the function of the gene that causes Stargardt disease (juvenile macular degeneration)
Discovered that blue light can cause damage to the eyes and lead to macular degeneration
One of seven research institutes in the world pioneering the ARGUS II Retinal Prosthesis System — an implant in the eye designed to provide a low level of stimulation of vision for patients who are blind.
Pioneered improvements in visual testing for retinitis pigmentosa and allied retinal degenerations
Developed an inexpensive distance stereoacuity test, the Randot test, for children as young as three years of age to monitor kids with intermittent exotropia (when one eye drifts out). Changes in distance stereoacuity over time may signal deterioration and the need for surgical correction to re-align the eyes.