Virtual success for Retina 2020

Like many other things this year – Retina 2020 was a very different experience. For the first time in 21 years of running the conference, and in line with Covid-19 public health guidelines, we transitioned the two day event onto a virtual platform.

A new and exciting challenge for our team, moving Retina to an online setting resulted in our highest number of attendees to date – 763 in total.

Scientific Programme

On Friday 6 November at 9.30am, our Scientific Programme was officially opened by Deputy Neasa Hourigan, TD for Dublin Central, and Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, former European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science. Both spoke enthusiastically about the calibre of our speakers and of the research happening here in Ireland.

Hosted by Prof Breandán Kennedy (a researcher at University College Dublin) in a custom built virtual studio, highlights of the day included keynote speaker Dr Pearse Keane, an Irish consultant ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital, who presented on his work developing artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms for the earlier detection and treatment of retinal disease. The day’s agenda showcased the significant work that is underway to truly understand the genetics behind retinal disease.

In the afternoon, through a series of sessions designed for early to mid-career researchers, we launched our new initiative Retina Network Ireland with support from Bayer Ireland and the Health Research Board.

Retina Network Ireland is a new all-island network for early to mid-career researchers, clinicians and allied healthcare professionals in the area of vision and retinal disease who are based in, or affiliated with, Irish Institutions.

The network will offer a number of free professional development opportunities to members – the first of which was delivered by award winning broadcaster Jonathan McCrea. He delivered a talk from his Story Studio series about the words we use and how we use them in science communication. His talk explored the power of language and how we use it to educate, entertain and inspire.

Throughout the day four handpicked early investigators presented their outstanding research with the hope of securing the 2020 Geraldine Duggan Early Investigator Award. The competition was fierce and the winner was selected by our Fighting Blindness panel and an attendee poll.

Congratulations to Dr Ema Ozaki of Trinity College Dublin who secured the prize based on her Fighting Blindness-funded research into the treatment of retinal degenerative disease. Thank you to Novartis for presenting and sponsoring the award this year.

Our poster gallery also went virtual this year and close to 60 clinicians and researchers uploaded their work. The feature proved to be very popular and was supported throughout the day by a number of poster sizzlers – short audio clips from the researchers that succinctly explained their poster. The final decision was very difficult but ultimately was based on the quality of the work and the level of interaction with the poster on the virtual gallery.

This year’s Poster Sizzler Award went to Laura Whelan of Trinity College Dublin for her poster entitled ‘Analysis of ABCA4 in over 1000 Stargardt disease probands identifies novel pathogenic deep intronic variants and reveals an enriched Irish variant’. You can listen to Laura’s winning sizzler on our YouTube channel. We are so proud to fund this outstanding research.

The quality was so high this year, we also wanted to highly commend the following posters:

Zeinab van Gestel-Fadaie: A BBS1 branchpoint variant is associated with non-syndromic retinitis pigmentosa

Nuria Suarez Herrera: Designing U7snRNA-based therapy to correct splicing defects in ABCA4 underlying Stargardt disease

Ciara Shortall: AAV-mediated gene replacement in cell culture models of X-linked Retinitis Pigmentosa

Thank you to Bio-Sciences for sponsoring the Poster Sizzler Award 2020.

Public Engagement Day

On Saturday we took to the accessible video conferencing platform Zoom to host Public Engagement Day 2020. Over 300 people registered to hear from international rugby player Ian McKinley, Judith Potts, founder of Esme’s Umbrella Group, David Keegan, Clinical Ophthalmologist, Ben Shaberman, Senior Director of Scientific Outreach & Community Engagement at Foundation Fighting Blindness and Claudette Medefindt, Head of Science at Retina South Africa.

Our two day event closed on a high with the virtual presentation of our Paddy Byrne Empowerment Award. The award, presented by Dr Audrey Derveloy, Managing Director and Country President of headline sponsor Novartis Ireland, celebrates people who have made an impact on the lives of people living with sight loss.

This year, we are honouring Christina Fasser with a lifetime achievement award to mark her recent retirement and service as President of Retina International after 28 years. Everyone at Fighting Blindness would like to congratulate Christina and thank her for her hard work, dedication and energy. Her acceptance speech was a fantastic and uplifting end to Retina 2020.

Picture of a smiling Christina Fasser
Christina Fasser

We’d like to extend a huge thank you to all of our speakers, attendees, members, ambassadors, official representatives, partners, sponsors and everyone who helps us to make Retina the outstanding international event that it is. It was a very different experience this year and we hope everyone enjoyed it.

Retina 2020 Playback

If you missed Retina 2020 you can catch up on all of the talks and presentations in your own time:

Scientific Programme

The playback of the Scientific Programme is available to watch at Simply register your details for access. Due to industry regulations, the recording is intended for the scientific and clinical community only.

Public Engagement Day

The full recording of the Public Engagement Day is available to watch back on our YouTube channel. We have also created shorter videos for each talk:

Opening Address and Welcome Messages 
Kevin Whelan, CEO, Fighting Blindness
Victoria Smurfit and Evie Baxter, Fighting Blindness ambassadors
Ian McKinley, International rugby player

Staying Connected: Our Support Response throughout Covid-19
Peter O’Toole, Head of Support at Fighting Blindness

Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS) – the Orphan Condition
Judith Potts, Esme’s Umbrella Group, UK

Capturing the Prevalence and Experiences of CBS in Ireland
Claire McSweeny, University College Dublin

Beyond your genes – your genetic inheritance need not define your life
Claudette Medefindt, Head of Science, Retina South Africa

Managing your eye health in a Covid-19 world
David Keegan, Clinical Ophthalmologist

Latest News on Emerging Therapies for Retinal Diseases
Ben Shaberman, Foundation Fighting Blindness, USA

Reimbursement of sight saving medicines in Ireland
Kevin Whelan, CEO, Fighting Blindness

Paddy Byrne Empowerment Award and Closing Address
Dr Audrey Derveloy, President, Novartis Ireland
Christina Fasser, Former President of Retina International
Kevin Whelan, CEO, Fighting Blindness