Waterford team leads major eye disease project

Need for less-invasive treatments
  • Deborah Condon

A new EU-funded project led by the Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) is hoping to improve treatments available to people with certain eye diseases.

The project, ORBITAL, is focusing on diseases of the back of the eye, such as diabetic eye disease and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is the most common cause of vision loss in people over the age of 50 in Ireland.

Current treatments for these condition include injections into the eye and it is hoped that this project will lead to the more widespread use of less invasive drug delivery methods, such as eye drops and contact lenses.

"There is a clear need for efficient, safe, less-invasive and more patient-friendly strategies for the treatment of AMD and diabetic eye disease. These diseases represent a considerable and growing burden on patients and healthcare systems throughout the world," commented WIT researcher, Dr Laurence Fitzhenry.

However, he pointed out that currently, there is a lack of researchers who are being trained ‘with the necessary interdisciplinary skills needed to combat such increasing burdens'.

ORBITAL aims to train researchers to have the skills necessary to develop patient-friendly drug delivery methods, which will ultimately improve patients' outcomes and experiences.

The €4 million project is due to begin in September and recruitment for 15 early-career researchers has already begun.

ORBITAL is made up of a consortium of 23 members from Europe, Canada and the US and will be led by researchers in WIT. Also involved in the Irish arm are University College Dublin, Queen's University Belfast, the charity Fighting Blindness, and a Kilkenny-based consultant eye surgeon, Mr David Kent, of The Vision Clinic.

"It is my firm belief that collaboration between laboratories is the key to genuine research breakthroughs, rather than individual groups working in isolation.

"To give you an idea of the therapeutic challenge facing the vision research community, AMD is highly prevalent, hugely challenging and currently only around 10% of patients can be treated, and not all effectively. ORBITAL is a timely approach to meet the challenges of these ever increasing and devastating eye diseases," Mr Kent commented.

Meanwhile, according to Dr Laura Brady, head of research at Fighting Blindness, ORBITAL has the potential to develop technologies that are ‘relevant, safe, cost-effective and patient friendly'.

"We welcome this opportunity to engage with early-stage scientists and ensure our next generation of leaders commence their research careers with the patients' needs at the forefront of their minds," she added.

*Pictured at the launch of the ORBITAL project are (l to r): John Leonard, Fighting Blindness member who is visually impaired and living with AMD; Dr Laurence Fitzhenry, WIT researcher and coordinator of the ORBITAL project; Mr David Kent, consultant eye surgeon at the The Vision Clinic in Kilkenny and Laura Brady, Head of Research at Fighting Blindness.


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