Glaucoma studies centered on Black people are few and far between. In fact, researchers are likely to study white people while Black people are far more likely to experience glaucoma. Yet, they are also less likely to receive proper diagnosis. Unfortunately, glaucoma often leads to blindness.
Team of Researchers
A group of scientists and doctors at Penn’s Scheie Eye Institute are working to solve the problem for Black Philadelphians. The study called the Primary Open-Angle African American Glaucoma Genetics Study is led by Joan O’Brien. O’Brien is professor of ophthalmology and director of Scheie. Researchers have recruited more than 10,000 Black Philadelphians for one of the largest genetic studies of the disease in this population.
Deep Diving into Research
The overwhelmingly Black team of researchers’ motivation stem from personal experiences. Ahmara Ross, assistant professor of ophthalmology and neurology at Penn and a physician-scientist at Scheie, recalls her grandmother’s experience with glaucoma. Ross knew that her grandmother slowly lost her vision, yet she had not visited an ophthalmologist.
The reality is if one person in the family suffers from the eye condition, other family members can too. As a result of witnessing the effects glaucoma had on her family and the Black community at large, Ross decided to specialize in ophthalmology. She strives to make a difference in West Philadelphia.
“Once I learned that glaucoma was the number-one cause of preventable blindness in the Black community, that’s really what sold me on it,” Miller-Ellis said. “The word preventable is key.”
Overcoming A Dark Past
The current dilemma is early signs of glaucoma and preventive measures are well documented for white and Asian patients. Nonetheless, Black people are more hesitant to participate in studies due to the history of deceptive and manipulative behaviors of medical professionals.
Even still, Black people need to understand the harm in their unwavering mistrust. Marquis Vaughn, director of community outreach for the project, weighed in on the dangers of neglecting one’s health.
“These types of hesitations and reservations have the negative effect of people of color not participating in very important research,” Vaughn said. “It takes away the chance for them to be a part of cutting-edge treatments.”
The Black community has room for growth with regards to public health. However, they need to be assured that medical research is being done to help them not hurt them.