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Vol. LXV, No. 16
August 2, 2013
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NEI Expands International Research Consortium
Members of the UNITE consortium—representing the United Kingdom, China and the United States—are working to improve our understanding of immune-related eye disease.
Members of the UNITE consortium—representing the United Kingdom, China and the United States—are working to improve our understanding of immune-related eye disease.

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.”


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