Urgent appeal to keep sight-saving research going

15 June 20

written by:

Róisín Treacy

(more articles)

A man with a beard and brown hair smiling at the camera.

Fight for Sight has launched an urgent appeal, after a survey by the charity found that Covid-19 is putting new sight-saving treatments at risk.  

The Fight for Sight survey of researchers in the field of ophthalmology found that 96 percent of respondents believe Covid-19 will delay the delivery of their research projects, while 93 per cent of respondents cannot access their labs during lockdown.

Sixteen percent of those surveyed said they have seen their work diverted to finding treatments to Covid-19, while nine percent of researchers have, themselves, been diverted to the frontline in the fight against Covid-19.

A worrying 90 percent say future research funding has either become uncertain or stopped completely or to some extent as a result of the pandemic, while 87 percent have seen a change to their type of work.

The charity is concerned that this widespread disruption to research will result in progress towards new sight-saving treatments coming to a standstill, with a knock-on effect for the two million people living with sight loss in the UK.

Chief Executive of Fight for Sight, Sherine Krause, said:“Eye health is an urgent public health issue and has major implications not just for those living with the everyday impact of sight loss, but also for the whole of society, the economy and beyond. Our survey shows that right now, eye research is at risk of coming to a standstill. Before the pandemic we were so close to breakthroughs for new treatments and cures that could transform the lives of people with sight loss, but all of this is now at risk. With one in five people in the UK being affected by sight loss in their lifetime, we need to act now to ensure that eye research gets the funding it needs to allow researchers to return to their labs and restart their projects. Let's not let Covid-19 affect our long-term mission – to create a world everyone can see.”

One researcher who has been redeployed to the frontline is Fight for Sight’s newly awarded research fellow Dr Zakariya Jarrar from King’s College. Dr Jarrar, an ophthalmologist, was due to begin his research into the role of the gut microbiome in age-related macular degeneration this summer, however, due to the current pandemic he is now working in intensive care for the NHS.

Dr Jarrar said: “I’m an academic clinical fellow so 75 per cent of my work is clinical and 25 per cent is research. As part of my fellowship, I was supposed to be starting three months of research from May, but all clinicians have been asked to return to clinical duties to help with the Covid situation and we’ve been advised to put all research on hold until further notice.”

He said: “Working in intensive care is very different to my normal work as an ophthalmologist – I’m certainly not used to working night shifts, but it’s good to feel I am doing everything I can to help during the current crisis. Although I have never worked in intensive care like this before, I am very well supported and there are a lot of consultants around if I have questions.”

Dr Jarrar, whose research is being jointly funded by the Royal College of Ophthalmology, now hopes he can return to his research in August, however a date for reopening the labs remains unclear.

To best support researchers during these unprecedented times, Fight for Sight is launching an urgent appeal to help researchers like Zak cover the costs in delays to projects and returning to the lab.

Donate to the urgent appeal Important eye care during Covid-19 pandemic