Drugs, Devices and Data – the Future Delivery of Eye Health Care

28 June 23

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Press Office

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Held over two sunny days in June, the Drugs, Devices and Data conference featured inspiring talks from leaders in vision research. Rosie Sturt attended and reported back.

The “connection between sport, physical activity, eye research and the clinical system is intimate and authentic in everyday life”. So said Keith Valentine, CEO of Fight for Sight / Vision Foundation, in his introduction to the Drugs, Devices and Data – Focusing on the Future Delivery of Eye Health Care meeting.

Hosted at the University of Birmingham, the conference was in support of the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) World Games 2023, due to take place on 18-27 August 2023 in the city. It is the first time that the UK will host the games.

Reflecting on the commitment and dedication required by researchers and sports people alike, the tone was set for the conference, where researchers across the eye space gathered to learn and discuss their recent advancements in eye health.

Supporting the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) World Games, 2023

Alaina MacGregor, CEO of British Blind Sport (BBS), introduced the event and opportunity to showcase the capabilities of blind and partially sighted people from around the world. BBS is encouraging visually-impaired and blind people to volunteer throughout the event, which will include goalball, archery, showdown and cricket among the ten sports featured.

The games also present an opportunity to better consider accessibility needs. 

For instance, Waymap is a navigation app highlighting the user’s location accurately up to one metre, which will be used at the World Games to highlight three key stations.

There were many highlights from the Drugs, Devices and Data – Focusing on the Future Delivery of Eye Health Care conference. Watch the video and read more below.

To effectively treat eye conditions, the drug needs to reach the target area and remain there long enough to have an effect. Some eye conditions affecting the back of the eye, such as AMD, can be treated using injections.

  • Associate Professor Lisa Hill shared updates from her team’s cutting-edge research to develop safe, effective drop-based therapies, considering how to get the drug to penetrate all the way to the back of the eye.
  • Professor Liam Grover outlined how his team has altered the structure of a material so it can remain on the surface of the eye more easily. This is necessary because blinking, a natural function to clean the surface of the eye, can also wash away a drug that has been put on the eye to treat it. 
  • Professor Susan Mollan has been working with people experiencing Intracranial idiopathic hypertension (IHH), which can cause vision changes and hypertension due to high pressure in the brain. Professor Mollan is developing treatments for the condition, the findings of which have been translated to the management of astronaut’s eye health during long-duration space travel. Nearly all astronauts in space for longer than three months are at risk of spaceflight-associated neuro-ocular syndrome (SANS), causing swelling in and around the eye resulting in vision loss. Susan outlined how we can monitor and manage the condition as astronauts face longer spaceflights, which you can watch more about here.
Shows someone silhouetted in front of a night sky
Research findings are translating into the management of astronaut's eye health

Devices: utilising technology to improve eye health care

How can smartphone devices be used in eye health care? Professor James Wolffsohn develops and evaluates instruments to monitor eye health, including an app for people with dry eye disease used to track their treatment usage, symptoms, and tests to do at home to monitor the progression of the disease.

Also, in the dry eye disease space, Associate Professor Laura Downie gave an interesting overview of her work using tears to diagnose and subtype dry eye disease using a technology called ADMiER. This is a point-of-care diagnostic medical device, allowing eye doctors to quickly obtain results about the condition and determine the best treatment available.

One of the major risk factors for glaucoma is increased pressure within the eye, complicated cases may require a type of surgery to create a new drainage channel to remove fluid and relieve the pressure within the eye.

Mr Imran Masood discussed advances made in minimally invasive glaucoma surgery, utilising a device that is 1mm by 0.33mm known as iStent.

Data: using data to inform healthcare decisions now and in the future

Data should be used to inform decisions, including policy relating to eye health care.

Dr Lola Solebo outlined her research into childhood cataracts, surgery to treat this and resulting cases of secondary glaucoma. By comparing data between children who do and do not go onto developing glaucoma, she could identify reliable measurements to predict future risk of glaucoma and personalise treatment for each child.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has great potential to be used within the health space, but is it ready? Professor Alastair Denniston covered the importance of addressing safety and reliability concerns prior to implementing AI into healthcare settings, such as reporting guidelines for clinical trial reports for interventions involving AI (CONSORT-AI).

He also outlined STANDING Together, co-led by Dr Xiao Liu, aiming to tackle bias in health datasets. As AI systems learn from the data it is given, a dataset that only represents a certain sample of the population could limit the potential of applying these systems to a global population.

Looking to the future

When looking to the future delivery of eye health care, the meeting felt incredibly reassuring. Recognising how invested the researchers were in the cause was particularly permeable and, when put together, is a force to be reckoned with.

Coming together in August for the IBSA World Games 2023 will likely provoke similar reactions, recognising the willpower and determination of these athletes to compete for their country and raise the profile of sport for people living with sight loss.

You can learn more about the upcoming games, including the audio-described livestreams, see the teams due to compete and purchase tickets to the event here.