Since 2006, the Health Research Board (HRB) and the Medical Research Charities Group (MRCG) have operated a joint funding scheme. The scheme allows members of the MRCG to support research of interest to specific patient groups. Fighting Blindness was successful in two grant applications to the joint MRCG/HRB funding scheme in 2014. These two projects are explained below.
Identification of drugs that can safely and effectively maintain visual function in models of inherited retinal degeneration.
Dr Breandán Kennedy has been a Principal Investigator at the Conway Institute of Biomolecular and Biomedical Research in University College Dublin (UCD) since 2006. Breandán and his team aim to develop pharmacological treatments for human blindness. As part of their on-going research, they have been awarded funding for three years to investigate the benefits of using a class of neuroprotectant drugs, known as HDAC inhibitors, to delay/prevent retinal degeneration. Many of these drugs have been clinically used in other conditions such as epilepsy and cancer. However, many questions remain. Which patients are most likely to benefit from HDAC inhibitors? Which HDACi are most effective? How do HDACi delay vision loss? Finally, how safe are these drugs? This project aims to answer these questions using zebrafish and mouse models of inherited human blindness. Drug treatment using these types of neuroprotectant drugs to delay/prevent retinal degeneration offers potential as a cost-effective and reversible treatment.
Inherited Retinal Degenerations: All Ireland Retinal Degenerations Partnership (AIRDP)
Dr Giuliana Silvestri is a Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon with a special interest in retinal disorders at the Royal Hospital, Belfast and is a Reader at the Centre for Vision and Vascular Science at Queen’s University Belfast. This project seeks to build on on-going work in Queen’s University Belfast, the Dublin Centre for Clinical Research (DCCR) and Trinity College Dublin. The aim of the project is to combine efforts and resources to form an all-Ireland research group which will be known as the All-Ireland Retinal Degenerations Partnership (AIRDP) and will assist in growing the efforts of the Fighting Blindness Target 3000 project. The advantages of an all-Ireland partnership allows extension of family studies across the border and also allows better opportunity for the study of disease progression according to genetic subtype. This will be helpful when counselling people who are affected.