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SAHARA study looks at dry eye treatments covered by insurers


Marc R. Bloomenstein, OD, FAAO, gives an overview of the SAHARA study.

Marc R. Bloomenstein, OD, FAAO, gives an overview of the SAHARA study while speaking with Optometry Times during the 2022 American Academy of Optometry (AAOpt) annual meeting in San Diego.

Editor's note: This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Hi, it's Dr. Marc Bloomenstein and I'm here to talk a little bit about an unmet need in optometry.

I am a clinical investigator for the SAHARA study. And in this study, what we're trying to do is look at dry eye treatments that are covered by insurers. They're expensive. They're chronic, long-term, for patients. But we also know that a lot of these treatments only work on one aspect of dry eye, which is inflammation.

We all know that meibomian gland dysfunction is probably the most pervasive form of this disease state. In fact, if you look, it overlaps, to a point where it's almost 86% of all dry eye patients. We also know that obstruction of those glands is a significant impediment to giving our patients the best quality of vision but also comfort.

In the SAHARA study, what we're doing is we're evaluating a heating and expressing of the meibomian glands, a single treatment compared to a pharmaceutical treatment option. We're evaluating these patients to see if it's a quicker option for patients, or if they have longer, more sustained symptom relief. Moreover, we want to be able to go to insurers and say we now have an opportunity to do something that we don't have to worry about patients that are going to not be adherent to medications, expensive medications, when a single treatment could possibly help them.

Now, we all know that these treatments are available, but they're limited. I mean, it in a small sense, it's only available for people that can afford it. And oftentimes I'm asked, "Is this a treatment that's covered by my insurance?" And sadly, I will tell them, it's not.

In the SAHARA study, we're specifically utilizing the TearCare system, which is from Sight Sciences, compared to a single dose treatment of cyclosporine. We're actually looking at patients over six months, some patients through a year. Moreover, we're looking at patients that have significant meibomian gland issues.

One of the things that we do is we'll evaluate the meibomian glands for their secretions and we call that a secretion score. In other data that has already been published, we saw that patients had had a significant amount of meibomian gland secretion scores or, to be honest with you, severe meibomian gland signs. Those patients, after a single TearCare treatment had greater improvements than any other thermal pulsation procedure. But hopefully, the SAHARA study is going to be able to let insurers feel comfortable knowing that this is a viable option to help the vast majority of our patients that have obstructed glands relative to meibomian gland dysfunction.

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