Gemma Owen becomes young ambassador for Fight for Sight

23 May 23

written by:

Press Office

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Fight for Sight is delighted to welcome Gemma Owen as its new Young Ambassador. Gemma, 20, is an international dressage rider, business owner, and TV personality. She is keen to use her profile to raise awareness of sight loss.

Sight loss is close to the heart of Gemma and her family (she is the daughter of football legend Michael Owen). Gemma’s brother lives with a rare, degenerative eye condition called Stargardt macular dystrophy (or Stargardt disease).

The genetic eye condition causes progressive central sight loss and affects a person’s fine, detailed vision.

Announcing her ambassadorship via Instagram, Gemma said:

“When my brother James was around 8yo, he was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease called Stargardt Disease.

This condition progressively deteriorates vision from the macula, and currently, there is no cure or treatment. Having closely witnessed how sight loss has affected him personally, I am honoured to announce that I am now an ambassador for @fightforsightuk.”

Gemma and her brother James pictured in a restaurant together. Gemma is smiling at James and has her arm rested behind him.

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Funding research to find a cure for Stargardt

Fight for Sight is proud to announce funding to find a cure for Stargardt.

We have awarded a grant to Professor Omar Mahroo from the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology. His work aims to develop gene therapy for people who have Stargardt. If the pre-clinical trial proves successful, it could help slow down or stop progressive sight loss, dramatically improving the quality of life for people like Gemma’s brother, James.

As Gemma added in her Instagram post:

“This UK charity is funding research into the prevention and treatment of blindness and eye disease and has a special place in all my family’s heart. I’m looking forward to working with them to help raise funds and awareness for research and developments in treatments for people with Stargardt Disease and other conditions causing blindness.”

Stargardt is a rare condition affecting 1 in 8,000 to 10,000 individuals worldwide.

Stargardt disease is caused by faults in the ABCA4 gene, which provides the instructions for making an important protein that usually removes toxic by-products from photoreceptor cells. These substances build up and form a fatty waste product in and around the macula, affecting the person’s vision. 

Gene therapy offers an opportunity to slow down or prevent sight loss for patients with Stargardt disease – by using a harmless virus to deliver a correct copy of the ABCA4 gene into their photoreceptor cells. 

An excellent ambassador for Fight for Sight

Welcoming Gemma, Fight for Sight and Vision Foundation Chief Executive Keith Valentine said:

“Gemma is an inspirational young woman, and we’re delighted she has joined Fight for Sight as a Young Ambassador.

“Gemma has demonstrated her tenacity and determination as a competitor in international dressage championships, so we were thrilled to find she brings the same energy and passion to raising awareness of sight loss. It is an exciting time for Gemma to join the charity as we have recently merged with Vision Foundation and have ambitious plans.

“The research Fight for Sight is currently funding will lead to better diagnosis, therapies and treatment for young people living with sight loss.” 

Gemma and Keith sitting on a sofa. Guide Dog Dottie sites in the foreground. Gemma wears a Fight for Sight Jumper. Behind a sign reads 'Restoring Sight Through Revolutionary Science.'

Established in 1921, Vision Foundation has been transforming the lives of blind and partially sighted people through impactful funded projects that involve, empower and include the visually impaired community for over 100 years.

An estimated 50% of sight loss is avoidable but not currently avoided. 

To tackle preventable sight loss, Vision Foundation supports projects which raise public awareness about the importance of sight tests, particularly among at-risk communities, and improve access to eye care, including adapted tests and community-based testing.

Raising awareness of sight loss

Gemma will be working with Fight for Sight to increase awareness among young people of the impact of sight loss and the importance of regular eye checks.

Speaking about her appointment as Young Ambassador, Gemma said:

“My focus is to raise awareness among young people of the impact of sight loss and the importance of regular eye health checks that can identify conditions such as Stargardt disease early.

“I’ll be using my platform, including social media, and working with Fight for Sight, to share the message with as many young people as possible.”

“I’m inspired by the research Fight for Sight is funding, discovering more about conditions that cause sight loss and finding new treatments for people living with them.

It was brilliant to hear about their recent merger with Vision Foundation, and I’m excited to be a part of this incredible journey.”

Gemma’s work has already helped to raise vital awareness with many people adding personal comments on her recent Instagram post, including:

“That’s really touched me, Gemma, as my husband was diagnosed with Stargardt disease in his 30s it’s soul-destroying seeing your loved one losing their sight, and there is no cure. Thanks for being their ambassador,” loullyh.

“This is so close to my heart, I love that you are using your platform for this, from a mother of a daughter with progressive sight loss, I can't tell you how thankful I am to anyone who tries to help and raise awareness, thank you.” justd81.

What is Stargardt disease?

Stargardt macular dystrophy (or Stargardt disease) is a genetic eye condition that causes progressive central sight loss.

Watch supporters talking about why research is vital, including Rose, who has Stargardt.

How many people does it affect?

Stargardt disease affects between one in 8,000 to 10,000 people in the UK.

What are the signs and symptoms of Stargardt macular dystrophy?

The signs and symptoms of Stargardt disease typically start in late childhood or adolescence. Symptoms will gradually get worse over time. The age at which someone first develops symptoms, and the speed of the disease progression varies widely from person to person. For some, sight loss may not begin until later in adulthood.

Follow Gemma’s story on Instagram