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New tool in fight against pediatric diabetic retinopathy

Jan. 14, 2016, 8:39 AM

The Children’s Diabetes Program at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt recently unveiled its latest tool in helping to prevent diabetic retinopathy, the leading cause of acquired blindness in the United States.

The tool, a new retinopathy screening camera, was installed at the pediatric Eskind Diabetes Clinic to provide annual retinal screening to all eligible patients at no cost.

Laura Maynard, R.N., right, examines patient Amelia Jarrell, 14, using the new retinopathy screening camera. (photo by Anne Rayner)

“The American Diabetes Association recommends an annual screening for every child who has had diabetes for more than five years or is over the age of 10,” said William Russell, M.D., director of the Ian M. Burr Division of Pediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes.

“It turns out that only 7 percent of children with diabetes in our clinic actually have the proper eye exam or screening for retinopathy. In some estimates, more than 90 percent of people with type 1 diabetes show signs of diabetic eye damage by the time they reach the 15-year mark with diabetes.

“We want to pick up on this early to ensure that our patients receive the proper medical attention,” said Russell, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Pediatrics and Cell and Developmental Biology. “Given the large number of children diagnosed as toddlers, many have been living with diabetes for well over 15 years when they transition to adult care. We want them to be free of diabetic eye complications throughout their lives. That effort must start in childhood.”

With a patient volume of nearly 3,000, Russell and his colleagues hope to drastically increase retinopathy screening among eligible patients.

Trained personnel will use the camera to take photographs of the retina, which is located in the back of the eye. Retinopathy affects the blood vessels in this light-sensitive tissue causing swelling and cloudy vision. The images will be electronically transmitted to faculty of the pediatric ophthalmology program at the Vanderbilt Eye Institute for analysis.

Proceeds from the Kids Battle Diabetes Golf Classic benefited the Children’s Diabetes Program at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and helped purchase a new retinopathy screening camera. (photo by Anne Rayner)

“This is a wonderful collaboration that will improve the quality of care for hundreds of children in the area,” said Sean Donahue, M.D., Ph.D., Sam and Darthea Coleman Professor of Pediatric Ophthalmology. “Implementing this screening tool will increase the number of children who are evaluated for diabetic retinopathy.”

Proceeds from Kids Battle Diabetes Golf Classic were donated to purchase the $20,000 camera.

The golf tournament, now in its second year, was organized by Rick Martin, the father of a patient in the program. Martin, along with a number of community supporters from surrounding counties, recently presented the clinic with a check for $33,000 from this year’s event.

Plans call for the retinopathy screening program to expand to all Vanderbilt pediatric diabetes clinic sites, including Franklin, Jackson, Murfreesboro and Cookeville.

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