Inspiring female researchers International Women’s Day 2023

07 March 23

written by:

Sarah Kidner

(more articles)

Fight for Sight is privileged to be helping to fund some inspiring female researchers. For International Women's Day, we celebrate their careers.

The theme for International Women’s Day, March 8, 2023 (IWD 2023), is DigitALL: innovation and technology for gender equality. The theme explores “education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls.”

For IWD 2023, Fight for Sight wants to recognise some female researchers driving innovations into preventing and stopping sight loss. Their research, some of it funded by Fight for Sight, is changing lives today and transforming them tomorrow.

Featured researchers include:

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Dr Nina Milosavljevic, University of Manchester

Dr Nina Milosavljevic

Early Career Investigator Awards help train the next generation of eye researchers. In 2017, Dr Nina Milosavljevic was selected as a recipient of this prestigious funding. The funding supported her laboratory research to investigate a cutting-edge new treatment approach to restore some vision in people with retinal degeneration.

These degenerative retinal disorders cause a progressive loss of photoreceptors – the light-sensing cells in the back of the eye. Optogenetic approaches involve the introduction of photopigments (light re-active receptors) to other surviving cells in the retina using gene therapy techniques to restore light-sensing capability.

Dr Nina Milosavljevic’s research investigated the potential of various photopigments. Her work has advanced scientific knowledge in optogenetics and could benefit future development towards restoring some sight in people living with retinal degeneration.

As well as furthering knowledge in the field, the funding was pivotal in establishing Dr Milosavljevic as an independent researcher through the receipt of a lectureship at the University of Manchester.

Talking to us for International Women’s Day, she said: “While there is much improvement, we still haven’t achieved gender equality in research and academia. In most cases, women are those who have more challenges in progressing with their research careers when raising a family.

“I’m proud to say that I’ll soon become a mum for the second time. Progressing with my research and academic career while raising a young family has been possible only because of the incredible support I’ve been fortunate to have from Fight for Sight and my colleagues at the University of Manchester. I think establishing more support from institutions and funding bodies for women so that we don’t have to choose between our passion for research and dreams of making important discoveries and raising a family would be one of the key steps going forward.”

Dr Denize Atan, Bristol Eye Hospital

Dr Atan pictured in her lab

Dr Denize Atan divides her time between working as an Associate Professor at the University of Bristol and as an Honorary Consultant specialising in neuro-ophthalmology at the Bristol Eye Hospital.

We have been delighted to fund Dr Atan’s research into retinal cell biology and the links between retinal neurodegeneration and dementia.

Her research found that people with primary open-angle glaucoma do not have a higher risk of dementia, but there are associations between other signs of retinal neurodegeneration and dementia.  Her group has also discovered that measuring the size of the optic nerves from specialist retinal photographs may be a way of determining a person’s future risk of dementia. Dr Atan and her team are further analysing the relationships between the eye and brain. 

Now that more specialised imaging technologies, such as optical coherence tomography, or OCT, are available in high street opticians, this means that her research could help determine an individual's future risk of dementia from the results of a routine sight test.

In 2015, Dr Atan was appointed the Lead for Women in Science in the School of Clinical Sciences at the University of Bristol, becoming a high-profile role model for women in the school and an active promoter of equality and diversity.

Dr Atan ran the London marathon in 2012, raising money for Fight for Sight. Her fundraising efforts will help us to fund ground-breaking research into sight loss, changing lives today and transforming them tomorrow.

Dr Atan said, "As a neuro-ophthalmologist and clinician scientist, I am fascinated by all the different ways that we can learn about the health of our brains by carefully examining and investigating the processes leading to retinal development and retinal degeneration at the back of our eyes. I am grateful to Fight for Sight for funding my research in this area and will continue to support Fight for Sight in their efforts to raise awareness and funding for important eye research."

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Professor Marcela Votruba, Cardiff University

Professor Votruba. There is an image of an eye pictured behind her.

Marcela Votruba is Professor of Ophthalmology at Cardiff University and Honorary Consultant Ophthalmologist at the University Hospital of Wales.

Professor Votruba’s focus is developing a deeper understanding of optic neuropathy – caused by damage to the optic nerve, which is responsible for sharing visual information with the brain.

Her research has identified one underlying genetic cause, and she is working on possible new treatments. She aims to use her position as a clinical ophthalmologist to drive the application of translational research. She is a passionate advocate for patients with rare diseases and the development of novel therapies for inherited eye disease.

Professor Vortuba said, "Eye research is an incredibly fast-moving field, and we hope we are on the brink of many new breakthroughs after much hard work. Women in vision have displayed enormous talent and drive, and this gives the field a real buzz. It is also very friendly as we are all working towards the same goal- to cure blindness with whatever small contribution we each can!”

As well as conducting research, Professor Votruba has served on our Grants Assessment Panel (GAP) from 2012-17 as a member and from 2020-23 as a vice-chair. The GAP reviews all our applications and ensures that only the best research is funded in terms of scientific quality. During her time on the GAP, Professor Votruba has reviewed 85 applications for us.

The GAP is pivotal to ensuring our mission to stop sight loss through pioneering research.

Read why she and others believe sight research is so vital. Why is eye research so important? | Fight for Sight

Dr Liying Low, University of Birmingham

Based at the University of Birmingham, Dr Liying Low is a National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR)-funded Clinical Lecturer in Ophthalmology.

In 2016, we awarded her a Fight for Sight Clinical Fellowship to undertake her PhD project, investigating the clinical utility of genomic sequencing for ocular inflammatory and infectious diseases.

Dr Low said: “As an ophthalmology registrar, I have personally cared for, treated and witnessed the devastating effect of eye infections on my patients.” She hopes that her research will lead to the timely administration of antibiotic therapies and prevent the progression to blindness from infection.

Our research has already led to pioneering gene therapies beginning to stop blindness from inherited eye diseases like choroideremia and Leber congenital amaurosis.

Other research into glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy are taking us towards our target of new treatments for the leading causes of blindness in the next decade.