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News from the VRC

November 2015

From David Brainard:

Dear Penn Vision Colleague,

This is an update on the facilities and activities of the Penn Vision Research Center. I have fallen out of the habit of sending these regularly but will try to reform my ways and send news a bit more often. As always, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns about the VRC please feel free to get in touch with me at

i) Core grant renewed. For those who haven't heard, our P30 core grant from the National Eye Institute was renewed for the next five years, from 9/1/15 to 8/31/20. This grant supports our core services, which are listed on our web page; information on VRC core facilities and how to access them is available at

ii) New: Access to OptumInsight database. The Department of Ophthalmology has acquired access to the OptumInsight administrative medical claims database, jointly with the Penn Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics and the Penn Leonard Davis Institute for Health Economics, and thanks to Joan O'Brien access to this database is available to all Penn vision researchers. The database contains comprehensive information on the healthcare services and expenditures for more than 60 million people covered by the United Health group, a large national US insurer. Included in the dataset is de-identified data on all outpatient visits, procedures performed and their associated diagnoses, dates and diagnoses for every hospital admission and discharge, every filled prescription, all laboratory tests ordered and, in most instances, their associated values. Demographic information and the socio-economic status variables, education and yearly income, plus co-pay and standardized costs for all care given during the years 2000-2012 are also included (updates will be available for later years). Access to this database allows investigation of surgical and drug treatment patterns and comparative effectiveness studies for all ocular conditions and diseases, their associated costs, complication rates after ophthalmic procedures, and risk factors for diseases and complications.

For those of you who heard Brian VanderBeek's talk at our Fall Vision Dinner, you have some sense of the exciting research that can be done with this database. Our Biostatistics module now includes bioinformatics support for expert programming access to the database. If you have a potential application, please contact Brian VanderBeek ( to discuss whether the database is likely to support your application. If so, then contact Gui-shuang Ying ( to get in touch with the database bioinformatician.

iii) Vision Science Seminar. The VRC is a co-sponsor of Penn's vision science seminar. Full schedule available at This year we have a reduced number of talks because we are experimenting with interleaving more general neuroscience talks as well as computational neuroscience talks in the same time slot. We will consider at the end of the year whether this experiment has been successful. A list of the broader Interdisciplinary Mind and Brain seminar series may be found here, while the computational neuroscience talks list is here

If you would like to be added to an email list to receive notices about vision seminars, contact Diego Contreras (

iv) Instrumentation Engineer. We have obtained funds from SAS and MINS to support the hiring of an instrumentation engineer, and are working on the actual hiring. In the meantime, John Andrews-Labenski, although retired, remains available for consultation. See our instrumentation module page:

v) VRC investigator list. We do our best to maintain an up-to-date list of Penn vision investigators, available at But sometimes we miss arrivals and departures. If you know of someone who should be on the list but shouldn't, or who is on the list but no longer at Penn, please email me (David Brainard, with the details.

vi) Statistics for vision research. Drs. Ying, Maguire, Glynn, and Rosner have collaborated on another edition of "Eyes on Statistics ...and Vice Versa." Please see the attached second edition, an e-newsletter dedicated to the application of statistical methods to data from research on eyes and vision. If you would like to be added to an email is to receive future editions of the newsletter, please drop a note to Virginia Plaseczny (



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