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The ‘5 to 5 interview’

Five questions to five distinguished members of the European Vision Research Community

A joint initiative by the ‘Gateway to Vision research (EuroVisionNet)’ and the European Vision Institute

Interview-Partner

Prof. José Sahel
Paris, France
Prof. José Sahel, Paris, France
Prof. Jorge Alio
Alicante, Spain
Prof. Jorge Alio, Alicante, Spain
Prof. Peng Khaw,
London, United Kingdom
Prof. Peng Khaw, London, United Kingdom

Question 1:
Could you please list your five most important priorities for Vision Research in the next five years (2009‐2013)?


Prof. Charlotte Remé

  • Neuron – glia interactions in the retina, their pathways, their effects in different diseases, especially retinal degenerations and inflammatory diseases.
  • Interactions of genes and environment, for example in age – related macular degeneration and inherited retinal degenerations.
  • Oxidative stress in the retina, molecular mechanisms of its origin, which mechanisms trigger oxidative stress, what are the effects of oxidative stress what are the signaling pathways of oxidative stress.
  • The role and interactions of apoptosis and autophagy, which becomes an increasingly important question in different fields, such as brain research, metabolism research, cancer research  and others.
  • More knowledge about- and more rescue for cones.

Prof. Eberhart Zrenner

  • Neurodegeneration – Neuroprotection
  • Gene therapy in retinal diseases
  • Dry-AMD: Mechanisms and therapy
  • Stem cell research
  • Electronic retina implants

Prof. José Sahel

  • Improving care and care delivery in third world country
  • Tackling the atrophic form of age-related macular degeneration
  • Developing gene therapy for several retinal and optic nerve conditions
  • Validating and improving retinal protheses
  • Improving diagnostic tools

Prof. Jorge Alio

  • Presbyopia,
  • Keratoconus
  • Femtosecond laser surgery
  • Microincision Cataract surgery
  • Regenerative medicine

Prof. Peng Khaw

At the UK National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Centre at Moorfields Eye Hospital and UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, we coincidentally started with five main research themes

  • Age related macular degeneration
  • Glaucoma
  • Diabetes
  • Paediatric and inherited eye disease
  • Ocular surface disease
  • We have recently added a sixth, which is Ocular Repair and Regeneration, but this really contributes to treatments in the other five. So these five themes are our priority for the next 5 years.

Question 2:
What are your ideas to further foster Private‐Public‐Partnerships in Vision Research and ophthalmology?

Prof. Charlotte Remé

Adress politicians, address industry. Try to create opinion- and statement papers which can be used to get industry and politics interested in vision research, specific problems which need to be addressed in vision research, and the socio – economic importance of vision in health care.

Prof. Eberhart Zrenner

  1. Company funded research wings (including personell) at major academic ophthalmic research centers.
  2. Common start-up companies
  3. Company sponsored major research programs to focused topics

Prof. José Sahel

Estabkishing large scale partnerships. Associating the industry to the design of programs. Training on both sides in order to facilitate the communication. Establishing funding schemes for innovative early programs.

Prof. Jorge Alio

Exchange of researchers, multicentric common database, creation of biobanks

Prof. Peng Khaw

I am convinced that further Private‐Public‐Partnerships in Vision Research and Ophthalmology are critical. The strengths of the public sector of course our huge patient population. For example, at Moorfields Eye Hospital, we see up to 350,000 patients every year.

Also within the public system, there is still freedom to explore new areas which does give rise to new knowledge and unexpected innovations. We definitely need to explore ways that we can work with the private sector synergistically.  This means exploring partnerships both in terms of early therapeutic developments, and also creating an infrastructural system within the public sector so that the translation of new therapies right through to phase 1 to 4 studies and beyond can be carried out rapidly.

It is the partnering between private and public sectors in this way that results in much faster development of new therapies.


Question 3:
An unknown investor gave you 100 Million Euros without restrictions to foster European Vision Research efforts. How would you invest the money?

Prof. Charlotte Remé

I would think of establishing one or two eye research institutes, perhaps loosely affiliated but not subordinated to important eye clinics, like Moorfields Eye Hospital and the Institute of Ophthalmology London (of which I do not know the exact administrative situations) or the French Eye Institute in Paris. I would also think of organisations like EMBO in Heidelberg, where young scientist can work for a number of years and then return to their home country / home institution.

I would not exclude to get Industry interested in such institute and work out a modus where the institute receives financial support from industry and does some contract work, but is essentially free in its research topics and activities. Thus I would use synergy between different institutions wherever possible, without loosing the independence of the institute.

Prof. Eberhart Zrenner

50% to gene therapy; 40% to neuroprotection research; 10% to combine both

Prof. José Sahel

I would open a competitive call for 5 to 10 ambitious, novel, high risk collaborative projects.

Prof. Jorge Alio

Developing the areas of research indicated in question 1

Prof. Peng Khaw

Having served for some time on several research bodies and also knowing the background to several world leading research initiatives  leads me to believe that central to these great research achievements are outstanding individuals need  the teams and support structure around them.

I would create schemes that gave opportunities for outstanding individuals, particularly younger individuals who are the life blood of the future, to seek a career within vision research and to be able to progress upwards depending on their personal performance.

There is no question that putting resources in to a specific research areas stimulates the development and growth of the areas.  I would ensure that there were adequate career schemes that could be applied for and also concentrate on creating schemes for the infrastructural support of these individuals so that they can continue outstanding research.


Question 4:
According to your personal point of view what were the most promising developments during the last two years (2007‐2008) in Vision Research worldwide?

Prof. Charlotte Remé

That is not easy to answer, and I doubt that one could name “the” most important ones, future only will tell that. Certainly very promising are the gene therapy trials in retinal degenerations, but also the enormous gain of knowledge on the molecular genetics of several important eye diseases. The increase in knowledge in several fields of ocular / retinal cell biology. including retinal pigment epithelium, visual pigment dynamics and –pathology.  The development and refinement, respectively, of new diagnostic tools such as OCT and SLO.

All in all it seems that during the last two years a lot of research has completed and advanced further the research and / or discoveries which have been made during the previous 5 – 10 years.

Prof. Eberhart Zrenner

  • Gene therapy
  • Lumirhodopsin for making bipolar cells light sensitive
  • Application of electronic retina prosthesis

Prof. José Sahel

  • The gene therapy studies on Leber’s amaurosis
  • The retinal prostheses trials
  • The work by Roska et al on Channelorhodopsin

Prof. Jorge Alio

Nulens accommodative IOL, femtosecond laser surgery

Prof. Peng Khaw

One of the most promising developments in the last two years is of course gene therapy based on years of outstanding work carried out cloning the various genes for eye diseases.

The recent breakthrough in  ocular gene therapy in both Europe and the USA is certainly, to my mind, an extraordinarily exciting advance.  It has opened the door not just for the treatment of rare genetic disorders but actually the genetic treatment of much more common disorders of the eye. I am particularly pleased that the first patient in the world was treated in Europe.

This success, of course, has been built not just on the truly outstanding teams in Europe and USA who provided this breakthrough but also the achievements of many thousands of investigators, who have done research into therapies for genetic disorders and built the basis for these remarkable achievements.

The concept of us now being able to treat diseases that which only a few years ago we were telling patients were untreatable is truly inspirational

The other  most outstanding developments are the scientific developments in the field of angiogenesis which have finally led through to these outstanding breakthroughs in treatment for patients who previously had very little hope. This area of advance has been revolutionary and I think there are still many advances to come. Furthermore, this has stimulated a great deal of further research into other therapeutic areas which will lead to significant progress in the future, eg. stem cell and gene therapy treatments for macular degeneration.


Question 5:
Young scientists and clinicians are sometimes not sure to develop their career in Vision Research rather than in other fields of life science and medicine. Could you give them your opinion why it is worthwhile to keep in the field?

Prof. Charlotte Remé

Show them importantce of seeing, of vision, and how incapacitating low vision and blindness are. Eye research is similar to brain research in several  respects, the retina  being a part of the brain. Since brain and retina share several mechanisms of physiology and pathology, retinal research would always encompass some brain aspects as well. Eye research spans such a wide field of possibilities.

From genetics to molecular genetics, to molecular- and cell biology, to physiology and pathology, to physics and optics, to biophysics and behavior, to circadian rhythm regulation. So, in a nutschell eye research contains its own universe, and for a young scientist and clinician there is a rich palette of research and clinical possibilities. There is still so much to do! Apart from all this: the eye is a beautiful organ!

Prof. Eberhart Zrenner

Quickly expanding field. Opening of new research institutes worldwide. Breakthroughs in translational research.

Prof. José Sahel

Tackling blindness by working on the most precious sense, using novel imaging tools, combining a wide range of strategies (from neuroprotection to gene therapy...) will enable vision researchers to change the lives of numerous individuals.

Prof. Jorge Alio

The possibility to develop a professional carreer, security in your work according to merits, more possibilities of transnational research.

Prof. Peng Khaw

Because vision research is such an exciting and rewarding field there are many areas where the research is at the forefront of the scientific field e.g. stem cell and gene therapy. For those working on the eye, we can actually visualise living biological processes as they happen and our ability to do this will get even better in the next few years. Ultimately we want to be able to step into cells and tissues in humans and watch what really happens. In vision research we are getting closer!  Also, for human beings, vision is by far our most precious sense and the research carried out may really transform peoples’ lives.  There is increasing realisation, for the first time,  that vision research is one of the highest priorities for research by national governments.

(See attached video link: www.nihr.ac.uk/about_transforming_health_research_video.aspx)


Thank you for the interview!

European Vision Institute EEIG

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