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Major Irish conference promotes eye research

RETINA 2017, a three-day international gathering of eye research experts ,took place in Dublin, Ireland.

Colin Kerr

Posted: Friday, October 20, 2017

Prof. Marc D de Smet, Chief Medical Director, Preceyes B.V., The Netherlands, and Kevin Whelan, CEO, Fighting Blindness, at Retina 2017

RETINA 2017, a three-day international gathering of eye research experts, supported by Novartis, took place in Dublin, Ireland.

Now in its 18th year, the conference saw speakers gather in Dublin from countries across the globe, from the United States and Canada, to Switzerland and Italy, to the United Kingdom and Ireland. With more than 400 delegates in attendance, the conference offered a key opportunity for researchers to develop collaborations and ignite the next generation of vision research.

Among the high-profile speakers in attendance was Prof Marc de Smet, Medical Director of Preceyes Medical Robotics in The Netherlands, and co-developer of a robotic system that has the potential to revolutionise eye surgery.
“Eye surgery demands a high level of skill and we have pretty much reached a limit as to what we can currently do unassisted. However, last year, we had a major breakthrough when we used robot-assisted surgery for the first time on the human eye,” said Prof de Smet.

“The key advantage is the high levels of precision for very delicate surgery and, where even the most highly-skilled surgeon can have micro tremors in his or her hands, our PRECEYES Surgical System is completely steady. The results, we have found, have been significantly fewer haemorrhages, and less trauma and damage to the retina. We anticipate that procedures currently off-limits will now be feasible, such as facilitating the delivery of gene therapy to the retina. Our aim is to have a CE mark by the end of 2018, with equipment potentially available to general ophthalmic hospitals from 2019,” he said.

Kevin Whelan, CEO of Fighting Blindness CEO, an Irish patient-led charity  which is funding  research into treatments and cures for blindness, said huge advances were being made in developing new gene therapies. However, for patients with inherited retinal disease to benefit, they need a precise genetic diagnosis and, most vital of all, access to genetic services.

“According to the latest figures, Ireland is ranked amongst the lowest in Europe for the number of genetic staff per population of 100,000. Current recommendations indicate a minimum of three Consultant Geneticists per million and one full-time Genetic Counsellor per 100,000 population. Based on its population, the Republic of Ireland should have 14 Consultant Geneticists and 46 Genetic Counsellors. With just six clinical geneticists and 8.3 genetic counsellors working in the State, staffing levels are woefully inadequate for our needs,” said Mr Whelan.

  • Retina 2017 was supported by Novartis