Victoria Smurfit Joins Minister Paschal Donohoe to Open Fighting Blindness Retina 2019 International Conference

Leading international actor and Fighting Blindness ambassador, Victoria Smurfit, today joined Paschal Donohoe TD, Minister for Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, as he officially opened Retina 2019, the charity’s annual gathering of some of the foremost minds in vision research, taking place in Dublin today and tomorrow (November 15 & 16).

Retina 2019, which this year celebrates 20 years and is supported by Novartis, coincides with SFI’s Science Week Ireland. It brings together scientists and clinicians from all over the world to share knowledge on global research efforts and technologies to find treatments and cures for sight loss.

Victoria Smurfit will give a keynote address at the public engagement day taking place tomorrow (Saturday, November 15). Victoria’s daughter, Evie, has Startgardt disease, a rare genetic form of retinal degeneration which causes progressive loss of vision.

For Victoria, it is important that we have greater understanding of the different types of sight loss and of the positive research strides being made:
“The most important thing to acknowledge when it comes to people living with sight loss – and this is something that I have discussed with Evie – is that there should be less pity and judgement, and instead more kindness and understanding. For many people with sight loss, their vision impairment may not be obvious externally. I think everyone has something that they’re dealing with and difference is the new normal. I would love to see greater awareness and inclusivity of everyone in our communities and I think we are getting there.

“The great thing about Fighting Blindness is that not only is it a charity that takes care of people with sight loss but that it is also undertaking research for better treatment. At the moment, for many people who encounter sight loss, the approach is focused more on maintaining the vision that they currently have, rather than on cure. Thanks to the incredible headway that is being made, that focus is moving more towards vision improvement and cure. I do think we will get there in time. I firmly believe that.”

The Future is Here
Day One of the conference will feature the eye experts gathered discussing a range of topics, including:

  • a clinical trial underway in Ireland to test the use of atropine in stopping short-sightedness or myopia getting worse in children. Myopia is the most common and fastest-growing sight loss condition, yet there is no treatment to stop it from getting worse
  • how an out-of-sync circadian rhythm may have a real and significant impact on sight, giving rise to leaky blood vessels in the inner retina
  • how microbes in our gut may influence the development of age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
  • how nutritional supplements may prevent progression of eye disease
  • how artificial intelligence and big data are being used to design new tests for visual disorders in helping to support clinical decisions
  • a new gene therapy that aims to make cells, not normally used for vision, sensitive to light, thus bypassing damaged photoreceptor cells
  • retina-on-a-chip technology which aims to allow scientists test the effects of drugs on the retina more efficiently than previously possible in laboratories

Day Two will welcome hundreds of people from all over Ireland, who are living with sight loss, to hear of the latest developments on more than 20 sight loss conditions. These include retinitis pigmentosa, diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma and many more.

Translating Science to Medicine
For Kevin Whelan, CEO of Fighting Blindness, Retina 2019 is an opportunity for scientists working at the bench and clinicians working on the front-line to share learning and discovery:
“As Retina 2019 marks 20 years of fostering collaboration and sharing innovation, we are hugely privileged to welcome some of the world’s leading vision clinicians and scientists to Dublin once more for what promises to be the most engaging and enlightening conference yet. Retina provides an opportunity for attendees to hear from those working at the vanguard of scientific discovery about the latest therapeutic advances globally and locally in the ongoing quest to improve and ultimately cure various types of sight loss. Equally, it provides an opportunity for those working on the front-line with patients as well as people living with sight loss themselves to offer their vital insights. We all share a common goal which is to improve the quality of life of people with sight loss and to eliminate blindness. Coming together at Retina, and ensuring an open exchange of information and perspectives between all stakeholders, is a key part of this journey.”

For Loretto Callaghan, Managing Director of Novartis Ireland, Retina 2019 provides an important platform for the exchange of pioneering research:
“Novartis is delighted to be once again supporting Retina 2019. The conference brings together international and Irish clinicians and scientists to showcase the latest innovations and practices that will benefit patients. At Novartis, we strive to discover new ways to improve and extend people’s lives, and patients are at the centre of our activities, so, we are delighted to support this initiative.”

For Dr Ruth Freeman, Director of Science for Society, Science Foundation Ireland, Retina 2019 is an opportunity to highlight how science and technology are delivering benefits for people with sight loss:
“Science Week is an exciting opportunity for people in communities across Ireland to engage with STEM. Public Engagement Day at Retina 2019 is co-created with people who are living with sight loss and specifically designed to meet their needs. This unique event connects patients with researchers and clinicians, encouraging an open dialogue and debate around the potential of science and technologies. It’s an important addition to the week and our list of funded events happening across the country.”

For more details on the Fighting Blindness Retina 2019 conference, visit www.retina.ie. To keep up-to-date on the latest conference news, follow Fighting Blindness on Twitter @fight_blindness, or search for #Retina2019 #RetinaDublin #ScienceWeek

ENDS