The founder of social enterprise Vision Bridge tells OT about how he is raising awareness of the importance of eye health
What is the Big Blind Walk?
I plan to walk almost 1000 miles from Land’s End to John O’Groats starting on 29 April 2018. It will take approximately seven weeks to complete and I will be guided along the route by friends and joined by colleagues, researchers and eye health professionals.
What is the aim of completing the challenge?
With their support, I aim to raise awareness and understanding of sight loss, as well as drive vision and eye health up the public health agenda. I also aim to promote the critical role that eye research plays in the prevention of sight loss, treatment of eye disease, rehabilitation of patients and the restoration of sight. I want to establish an eye research fund to build on already proven research, and to support UK based research centres of excellence in retaining the best minds in eye research.
Why is it important to raise awareness of the importance of eye research?
Understanding the patterns and processes of eye disease is a fundamental prerequisite for delivering sustainable, effective and cost-efficient treatments, as well as providing long term benefits to patients and cost savings to the healthcare system. The ability to identify the drivers of disease and new therapeutic targets, create opportunities for earlier and preventative therapeutic interventions, as well as alternative treatments, predicting the onset and rate of disease progression, and gauging the way in which individual patients may react to treatments are all crucial weapons in the fight against sight loss.
Eye research remains one of the most underfunded areas of medical research and the best kept secret in the UK. In addition, sight loss remains a clear and present danger. The numbers of those with avoidable and unavoidable sight loss are set to double and the financial, practical, emotional and psychological impacts continue to be acutely felt. Many barriers to employment, leisure activities and travel remain in place to those with visual impairment.
I hope the Big Blind Walk 2018 will help to raise the general level of awareness around sight loss, introduce everyone to this incredible scientific world of discovery and innovation, and encourage people to financially support eye research. We must keep building a momentum behind sustainable progress towards a future where everyone can see.
"Eye research needs to adopt a profile that is more recognisable, a language that is more understandable and a context that is more inspirational"
What needs to be done to push eye research up the public health agenda?
Eye research needs to adopt a profile that is more recognisable, a language that is more understandable and a context that is more inspirational. We must develop narratives and platforms that will engage and enthuse potential donors and highlight the power and potential of eye research in giving sustainable solutions, financial independence and emotional well-being of those wrestling with sight loss.
We must more effectively highlight how eye research can deliver quantifiable and beneficial changes to the delivery of eye care in the UK. For example, the way in which the use of artificial intelligence and robotics, biomarkers, personalised and minimally invasive treatments, novel drug delivery systems, improved knowledge of eye health and self-monitoring, and the technological advances in primary care patient support can reduce waiting times and pressures in secondary care as well as greatly improve access for those who are a priority.
Is there any research being undertaken at the moment that has exciting potential?
The advances in surgical techniques and equipment, bioengineered materials and drugs, cell therapies and drug delivery mechanisms are leading to safer, less invasive and more accurate interventions, reduced side effects and improved longer lasting patient outcomes.
Also, the proven versatility of stem cells in either practice or research settings to enhance, protect or restore vision is giving hope to millions. Let us not forget that the ongoing convergence of optics, engineering and computing science is also creating artificial vision, audio-based and vision enhancement rehabilitative technologies that greatly improve patients’ current lifestyles, choices, independence and mobility.
What eye conditions could research improve treatment of?
Eye research is fighting sight loss on all fronts. Treatments are improving across a range of diseases and conditions including wet macular degeneration, uveitis, corneal disease, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, dry eye and refractive error. Treatments for eye trauma and injury and infections are making progress too, alongside our ability to increasingly mitigate the impact of systemic diseases (for example inflammatory, cancer, blood, thyroid, skin, kidney, metabolic) on sight.