International Retina Conference Could Hold the Key to Cure for Blindness

Minister for Health welcomes world-renowned experts to Ireland for global fight against blindness

  • Fighting Blindness’ 15th annual Retina Conference
  • Leading Irish and international experts share insights into curing and preventing blindness
  • Fighting Blindness highlights Target 5000 project to pave the way for targeted gene therapy treatment in Ireland
  • Patient-led charity calls for funding and support for clinical trials in Ireland
  • Conference hears how gene therapy and innovative technologies are restoring eye sight in patients
  • Over 224,000 people in Ireland affected by sight loss, 285 million affected globally, with figures expected to rise by 2020 (1)

Friday, Novembe 7, 2014: World-renowned leaders in vision health met in Croke Park Stadium, Dublin today to share their insights into the global fight against blindness, and discuss their incredible success at restoring patients’ eye sight. Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, TD officially opened Retina Conference 2014, organised by Fighting Blindness, and thanked the vision experts for their commitment and dedication to finding a cure for blindness.

Fighting Blindness, a patient-led charity, brought leading scientists, researchers, clinicians and patients together for the 15th annual conference to discuss developments in the field of eye health, and highlight the exciting treatments, clinical trials and technologies that are bringing experts closer to finding a cure for blindness.

Fighting Blindness hopes that this conference, and the associated engagement with policy makers and other stakeholders, will encourage and attract future clinical trials to Ireland and provide people with sight loss access to emerging therapies.

Speaking during his opening address, Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, TD said, “This is an exciting time for the vision health community, especially patients and families who are affected by sight loss. The innovative and pioneering work presented today is incredibly important and gives hope to the 224,000 people affected by sight loss in Ireland, and to future generations affected by genetic eye disease. It’s really encouraging to hear about the huge progress being made in treating blindness, thanks to the dedication of those working in research and vision health, and the commitment of organisations like Fighting Blindness.”

Eminent global experts, some of whom have restored vision in their patients, presented on topics including gene testing, targeted gene therapy, artificial implantation and emerging treatments and technologies for treating eye disease effectively.

Mr David Keegan, Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon, Mater Hospital, Dublin and board member of Fighting Blindness, presented on an exciting project entitled Target 5000 that aims to provide genetic testing for the estimated 5,000 people on the island of Ireland who have a genetic retinal condition. Through genetic screening of the person affected and their family members, Target 5000 will provide more detailed information about the nature and inheritance pattern of their eye condition. The overall aim is that patients will be able to access therapies targeted to specific genes and mutations as they become available. They will also be added to a national patient registry so that patients who are eligible for future clinical trials can be easily identified. To date, almost 600 people have been recruited into the programme between the three sites in Dublin and Belfast.

Welcoming the Minister to the conference, Mr Keegan said, “We are delighted to have Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, here to officially open this year’s Retina Conference, especially as we have such an innovative and inspiring group of experts from Ireland and all over the world here to share their exciting developments in the global fight against blindness. Target 5000 is one such project and we are very hopeful that the initiative will lead to improved accuracy in diagnosis and treatment for those affected by inherited retinal conditions.

“In focusing on the positive developments here today, it is important to highlight that an integrated research and clinical policy will yield better patient care, experience and outcomes. We are again calling on the Minister to implement this through the adoption of a national vision strategy to eradicate blindness in Ireland.”

Fighting Blindness used the conference to call for implementation of policies in Ireland to ensure that patients have access to emerging therapies in the future, and highlighted the need for further investment into research and development of treatments and cures for eye disease.

Avril Daly, CEO, Fighting Blindness said, “As a small country we have made an enormous contribution to the global effort towards developing treatments and finding a cure for blindness. Through collaboration with the scientific leaders of today and innovators of tomorrow, we seek to empower patients and support new developments in the fight against blindness.

“We are focused on funding research in order to provide our patients with access to new therapies, and we call on the Government to help us to create and secure more clinical trials for retinal conditions in Ireland.”

The conference, supported by Novartis, will also include a Public Engagement Day on Saturday 8th of November for patients and families affected by sight loss as well as the general public. The meeting offers a unique opportunity for patients to have direct contact and discussions with top scientists, researchers and clinicians. A full report on the conference will also be available on Fighting Blindness’ website.

Commenting on the importance of having both the scientific and the public aspects of the conference, Loretto Callaghan, Managing Director, Novartis Ireland, said, “At Novartis we believe that collaboration is key to successful patient treatments and outcomes. We are pleased to support such important meetings which bring global experts and leading researchers together to share and discuss their discoveries with people living with sight loss. Since 2010, five people have gone blind each week in Ireland so it is imperative that a national vision strategy is put in place, and that research and developments in eye health are prioritised to avoid preventable blindness.”

Fighting Blindness represents the voice of 224,000 people affected by sight loss in Ireland and is committed to supporting and empowering patients by providing this unique access to experts in eye health during the Retina Conference, and putting patients at the forefront of the organisation. Please visit www.Retina.ie for more information or contact research@fightingblindness.ie.