|Members of the UNITE consortium—representing the United Kingdom, China and
the United States—are working to improve our understanding of immune-related
Representatives of the National Eye Institute took part in a signing ceremony
recently with leaders from research institutions in China and England to
expand a collaborative international research program. Called UNITE, short
for Universities and National Institutes Transatlantic Eye Consortium for
Human Ocular Immunology, the consortium helps advance international collaboration
in the study of immune-related eye disease. The signing ceremony
and discussions took place at the Association for Research in Vision and
Ophthalmology meeting in Seattle.
The consortium builds upon an earlier agreement that was signed in 2012
between NEI and the National Institute for Health Research, the part of the
United Kingdom government that funds and conducts biomedical research.
British participants include Moorfields Eye Hospital and University College
London Institute of Ophthalmology, University Hospitals Bristol and the
University of Bristol. The latest agreement now adds two leading institutions
from China to the consortium—Zhongshan Ophthalmic Center in Guangzhou
and Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Participating members hope to increase our understanding of immune system
mechanisms that lead to ocular inflammation in such diseases as uveitis,
age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic retinopathy. Their
goal is to translate observations from laboratory studies into new human
trials. Among other activities, NEI and U.K. researchers have already conducted
scientific exchanges, pursued joint intellectual property rights for
targeted drug therapies and collaborated on several clinical trials on uveitis,
AMD and diabetic macular edema. To help aid face-to-face communication,
the researchers meet weekly by Skype and are planning a UNITE symposium
for the end of 2013.
UNITE members share technologies and biological material from their
patient populations and experimental models. They also share protocols to
help standardize clinical practice in the area of human ocular immunology.
“The relationships we are fostering transcend what we normally think of as
scientific collaboration,” said Dr. Gyan “John” Prakash, associate director for
international programs at NEI. “These scientists are sharing data, materials,
protocols and personnel with each other in the hope of addressing some of
the most debilitating eye diseases worldwide. It’s almost as if the researchers
are working in the same laboratory—only one that spans three continents.”
“Disease knows no boundaries,” agreed Dr. Robert Nussenblatt, chief of
NEI’s Laboratory of Immunology and a lead scientist in the project. “Extending
UNITE to include China can only help in understanding disease on an
international scale. Greater understanding can speed healing.”