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Retina International World Congress comes to New Zealand

Why is marketing approval for the first retinal gene therapy treatment for patients with blinding retinal degenerations so significant? Is there an exciting future for applying stem cell therapy to treating retinal disorders and what are the scientific and ethical challenges in the use of stem cells?

How have researchers from the fields of ophthalmology, vision science, biophysics, neuroscience, neurosurgery, engineering and material sciences come together to restore vision in the blind using implants for electric or optic stimulation of the visual system? How will augmented reality and virtual reality liberate sight-impaired people in an exciting new age of accessibility?

The February 10-11 Retina international World congress at the University of Auckland will present the most up-to-date knowledge in scientific and clinical research, treatment advocacy and access, rehabilitation best practice, blindness-specific technologies and peer support.
The congress will examine critical issues associated with expediting the development, accessibility and availability of treatments for retinal disorders such as macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa, diabetic retinopathy and Stargardt disease.

The scientific and medical programme will include insight into retinal research in genes and gene therapy, cell therapy and regenerative medicine, retina implant technology, novel drug therapy and robotic surgery.

For patients and their families, clinicians and rehabilitation professionals, scientists and students alike, regardless of where they are in their careers or stages in coping with a sight loss, the congress will ensure a learning experience of high value.

For people with low vision seeking to retain independence, there is now a plethora of tools and techniques. But what will work for whom? The congress will deal with making the most of remaining vision. Adaptive technology specialists will answer common questions for patients “How will I read, How will I write, How will I communicate?”

The congress is asking high-achieving sight-impaired and blind people about their experiences in “Independence, Self-Determination – Are the Barriers Real?

World-leading researchers will focus on addressing where we are at and what the future holds. There will be commentary on the multiple avenues of intervention, including correcting the underlying defect, regenerating damaged retinal cells, preventing further retinal deterioration and providing artificial methods of sensing light.

Gene Therapy - A Turning Point In Novel Therapy?
When the US Food and Drug Administration approved Luxturna for the treatment of patients with confirmed biallelic RPE65 mutation-associated retinal dystrophy in December 2017, it was a first in the field of gene therapy — both in how the therapy works and in expanding the use of gene therapy beyond the treatment of cancer to the treatment of vision loss. The condition leads to vision loss and may cause complete blindness in certain patients.
In a keynote address at the congress, Professor Jean Bennett, co-director of the Centre for Advanced Retinal and Ocular Therapeutics (CAROT) at the University of Pennsylvania will present the remarkable story of how her research with Dr Albert Maguire, conducted at UPenn over the past 25 years, has established the scientific underpinnings which made it possible to test the first potential definitive retinal gene therapy treatment for patients with blinding retinal degenerations.

Stem Cell Excitement
The congress will present insights into answering the question “Is there an exciting future for applying stem cell therapy to treating retinal disorders?” How does stem cell therapy generate cells that are lost in retinal disease in order to restore lost function? What are the scientific, ethical and political challenges in the use of stem cells?
Likely to be one of the biggest science stories of the next decade, patients and professions can learn why a powerful and cost-effective new gene-editing technology known as CRISPR makes it much easier for researchers to figure out the biological effect of a gene. The focus is on developing therapies that use this revolutionary “gene surgery” technique to treat inherited diseases.

Reading The Headlines – Vision Accomplished For Bionic Eyes?
Our artificial vision plenary will feature inspiring narratives describing how researchers from the fields of ophthalmology, vision science, biophysics, neuroscience, neurosurgery, engineering and material sciences have come together with a shared goal – restoring vision in the blind using implants for electric or optic stimulation of the visual system.

While visual function outcomes have been limited to high-contrast object recognition, localisation, large character recognition and basic navigation thus far, the future for retinal prosthesis devices holds promise. The retina 2018 New Zealand plenary will feature University of Michigan –based kiwi ophthalmic surgeon Professor Thiran Jayasundera describing his surgical procedure for Argus II, the world’s first commercial artificial retina and the inspiring advancements closer to home with Dr Penny Allen presenting the Bionic Vision Australia story.

Seeing The Future — Will Augmented Reality And Virtual Reality Liberate The Sight-Impaired?
Artificial intelligence is powering rapid developments in computer vision and voice recognition thus reducing the need for complex interactions with screens. Wearables for the fingers, wrist, feet and head are using optic and ultrasonic sensors to take advantage of our increased mobile connectivity to provide audible and tactile information to enhance mobility and independence. The exciting new age of accessibility for the sight-impaired will be characterised by things like customising AI-generated image description and operability of autonomous vehicles
All these liberating prospects will be part of a presentation from broadcaster, advocate, information technology consultant and IT product designer Jonathan Mosen in his session titled
“Advanced And Future Technologies In Blindness And Low Vision – What Do We Want And Why?”

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