Fighting Blindness Retina 2021 Public Engagement Day to Shine a Light on Latest Treatment Advances

With many people with sight loss continuing to grapple with the mental health after-effects of COVID-19, Fighting Blindness’ forthcoming Retina 2021 public engagement day will focus on re-building resilience and optimism for the future among the sight loss community.

The public engagement day is taking place virtually on Saturday November 6 from 10am to 2pm and is part of the two-day internationally-renowned Retina conference event from November 5-6. It follows a scientific day which brings together leading clinicians and scientists at the vanguard of ophthalmology research to share their insights.

Most recent statistics show that there are almost 272,000 people in Ireland living with sight loss. Against this backdrop, the public engagement day focuses exclusively on people with sight loss and their families and is aimed at bringing us up-to-date on the latest developments in eye treatments, alongside motivational talks on living our best lives in the face of adversity.

Participants will be able to take part interactively in real-time, with the opportunity to put their questions to the range of speakers, as well as share their experiences with others who have experienced sight loss. People will also be able to catch up on proceedings on demand after the event, should they wish. Registration is free at

Retina 2021 is sponsored by Novartis, Janssen and Roche, with more partners due to be announced in due course.

Seeing Again
Among those speaking at the public engagement day is Jake Ternent who was the first person in the UK to receive a revolutionary new gene therapy, Luxturna. For Jake, who has the inherited retinal disease Leber Congenital Amaurosis (LCA), Luxturna has replaced a faulty gene in his retina which has not only succeeded in arresting his sight loss but he is now seeing things he never could see previously. Yet to be given reimbursement approval in Ireland, it is children with this rare condition – estimated to number less than five – who are expected to benefit most as this is a progressive disease that causes vision to deteriorate over time. James Kennedy is one of the small number of people here who could benefit from the therapy and he will speak about his frustration at the delay in getting this approved.

Other speaker highlights include Ben Shaberman, the Senior Director of Scientific Outreach at Fighting Blindness USA, who will speak about the treatment discoveries in the laboratory today set to enable children and young adults see the faces of loved ones and even see stars in the sky for the first time. Peter O’Toole, head of support at Fighting Blindness will also share his thoughts on how people with sight loss have shown great resilience in the face of the mental health challenges posed by COVID-19 and offers some helpful advice for the times ahead.

Shining a Spotlight
For Kevin Whelan, CEO of Fighting Blindness, Retina 2021 is about offering reasons to be hopeful for the future after a very difficult 18 months for the sight loss community:
“Living with sight loss comes with many challenges. However, the arrival of COVID-19 has compounded the mental health aspects for so many people in our community. It was important for us therefore that this year’s Retina event would allow us to reflect on where we are at and offer people reasons to be hopeful by sharing the experiences of others on a similar journey to themselves, by highlighting the really revolutionary treatment advances underway, and by offering tools to build coping skills and resilience when it comes to minding our mental health.

“Often, we hear about exciting new discoveries in the laboratory and we know it can take time to make it into the real world. This year, we hear about one gene therapy that is already changing lives for the better in the here and now. Jake Ternent is the first person in the UK to receive a new gene therapy for his sight loss and we hope that this therapy will soon be available to those in Ireland who need it. Plus, we hear from Ben Shaberman in the USA on the treatments delivering real results that are coming down the tracks. After the past extremely challenging 18 months, this year’s Retina is all about putting a spring in our step and shining a spotlight on a very positive and encouraging future.”

by Dr Rachel Bermingham, Research Manager, Fighting Blindness

1.      Screen idol? With more time spent indoors during the winter season, many of us will spend increased time in front of our laptops and TVs. It’s understandable. But to avoid eye strain, it’s important to follow the 20/20/20 rule. Give your eyes a well-earned break every 20 minutes by looking at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

2.      Sun, in winter? Winter days can seem grey and gloomy, but ice, snow and the sun sitting lower in the sky can create reflective surfaces that can increase the amount of bright light which make it important to keep your eyes protected from harmful UV rays and glare. Protect your eyes with sunglasses when outdoors in winter – keep a pair handy in your car as you never know when that winter sun will appear!

3.      Dry eyes? Eyes can dry out in winter for a number of reasons. Central heating, car heaters, fires and cold winds can all dry out our eyes. We can minimise dry eyes by reducing the setting on your central heating and avoiding direct heat on your face. You can also wear protective glasses or sunglasses in cold and windy weather. A warm compress over your closed eyes in the morning can help relieve the discomfort of dry eyes. Eye drops can help keep dry eyes moist, and an ophthalmologist can advise what type of eye drops are best for you.

4.      Low light? In winter there is less natural light and we rely much more on artificial lighting. Poor lighting can lead to eye strain causing tired eyes and sometimes fatigue headaches. To ensure you have good lighting in your house, consider using multiple light sources in a room to increase light as opposed to one bright overhead light. When completing a task such as reading or writing, use a lamp with direct light.

5.      Keeping healthy? It can be difficult to continue to have a healthy lifestyle in winter. It is important to be as healthy as possible all year around for general health which in turn leads to good eye health. Eating a healthy diet is good for your eyes. For example, leafy green vegetables, which contain lutein, can help protect against a range of eye conditions. Regular exercise helps maintain a healthy weight which in turn helps reduce your risk of conditions caused by being overweight such as cataracts, type 2 diabetes, and age-related macular degeneration.

For up-to-date information on Retina 2021, visit, or follow Fighting Blindness on Twitter @fight_blindness #RetinaDublin