Birmingham in €4m project to train researchers to improve sight-saving treatments

Treatment of diseases of the back of the eye such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic eye disease is set to be improved with a €4m EU-funded project led by Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) in partnership with BHP founder-member the University of Birmingham.

The project, ORBITAL, will contribute to research which could lead to more widespread use of less invasive drug delivery methods such as eye drops, contact lenses and microneedle technologies, instead of traditional treatments such as injections.

By understanding what patients and clinicians need in practice, the project aims to train researchers to have the skills necessary to develop these patient-friendly drug delivery technologies and ultimately improve patient experiences and outcomes.

Current treatments include injections into the eye, which can be unpleasant for patients, and the project has been lauded as a timely new approach to meet the challenges of these devastating eye diseases.

Europe’s ageing population and obesity epidemic means that the numbers living with AMD and diabetic eye disease will continue to dramatically increase in the coming years.

Ann Logan, Professor of Molecular Neuroscience at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Inflammation and Ageing, said: “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.

“Given the statistics, there is a lack of researchers being trained with the necessary interdisciplinary skills needed to combat such increasing burdens.”

She said that engagement with patients, patient groups and clinicians throughout the entirety of the training programme will ensure that patient-oriented solutions are at the centre of all research activity.

The ORBITAL (Ocular Research By Integrated Training And Learning) European Training Network is a research and training programme, supported by €4m through a Horizon 2020 Marie Sklodowska-Curie European Training Network award. This pan-European research project, which starts this September, will see academia, industry, clinicians, patient advocacy groups and hospitals working together to create patient-friendly solutions for blinding diseases and recruitment has started for 15 brilliant, early career researchers to work on the project.

ORBITAL is made up of a consortium of 23 members from Europe, Canada and the US. Also involved are industry associates, including the University of Birmingham spin-out company Neuregenix Ltd, and the Irish charity Fighting Blindness.

Dr Laura Brady, Head of Research at Fighting Blindness, said: “Fighting Blindness champions the need for meaningful involvement of patients in research.

“Often the only sight-saving treatment available for those living with AMD requires invasive and frequent injections into the back of the eye.

“Addressing this burden on both the individual and clinical community, ORBITAL holds 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.”