Growing up in rural Ghana, Edmund Arthur wondered why so many people he knew were losing their vision. Classmates at school struggled to see the blackboard. Neighbors were going blind due to cataracts. Then, his own mom was diagnosed with glaucoma. He had to find a way to help.
This burning question drove him to optometry school. There, he learned that many of the severe eye diseases impacting his community could be prevented with better access to care, including early diagnosis and treatment. While it was rewarding to provide this patient care to his community, the more he learned, the more questions he had.
I wanted to understand why we treated some conditions in a certain way and didn’t have treatments for others.
“I wanted to understand why we treated some conditions in a certain way and didn’t have treatments for others, and whether we could improve the way things were done,” he says. “I knew to find the answers, I had to go beyond the clinic and dig deeper into research.”
This drive took him to the United States for a doctoral program. In the lab, he studied better ways to detect diabetic retinopathy (DR) and diabetic macular edema (DME) – two leading causes of vision loss in working age people. Based on that work and his commitment to fighting health disparities, he has won the 2023 Genentech Career Development Award for Underrepresented Minority Emerging Vision Scientists, presented by the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) Foundation.
The award is designed as a launching pad for underrepresented investigators like Dr. Arthur to explore novel and innovative research projects with the potential to transform healthcare and improve patient experiences and outcomes. The two-year, $100,000 grant often enables them to establish their own labs and begin pursuing longer-term funding.
This award from Genentech and the ARVO Foundation is a dream come true for me.
“This award from Genentech and the ARVO Foundation is a dream come true for me,” says Dr Arthur.
With this support, he’ll be working to uncover answers to some of the questions about diabetic eye disease that surfaced after he arrived in the United States. Although the American healthcare landscape was vastly different from Ghana’s, he saw parallels between his own community back home and rural communities in the U.S., with the same patterns of preventable eye disease getting worse due to lack of adequate care. Many people do not see a doctor until they begin noticing vision problems. By that point, they already have advanced DR or DME due to undiagnosed diabetes.
Even when someone with diabetes sees an eye doctor early on, it’s difficult to detect the first signs of DR or DME with standard imaging. However, through his research, Dr. Arthur is investigating a promising biomarker for DR that is visible via advanced retinal imaging. Now the question is whether it could be used to detect DR earlier and monitor whether treatment is working. That’s what he hopes to explore with the extra support from Genentech and the ARVO Foundation.
“I’ll finally be able to collect pilot data at the scale needed to validate this biomarker and apply for additional grants that will allow us to collect even more data on it and explore its potential for population-wide use,” he said.
Dr. Arthur’s goal is to translate his research into a mobile retinal screening method for DR and DME, which could dramatically improve early detection and connection to care in underserved communities. Ultimately, he hopes to use retinal screening to improve early detection of diabetes itself.
Genentech is proud to support Dr. Arthur and his work building toward a brighter future for communities disproportionately impacted by eye disease. We believe it’s our responsibility to lead on advancing diversity, equity and inclusion within our walls and throughout the healthcare industry. That starts with acknowledging and addressing the root cause of health inequities – systemic racism. Since 2017, Genentech and Genentech Foundation have invested nearly $200M in equity-focused giving alone, supporting efforts that tackle disparities in the healthcare and education systems, advance diversity in STEM, and support the needs of people of color and underserved groups in the communities where we live and work.
To learn more about Genentech’s long-term efforts to advance diversity and inclusion in ophthalmology clinical research, click here.