Research Appreciation Day: why early-stage eye research is so important

05 July 24

written by:

Press Office

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Fight for Sight / Vision Foundation funds a broad portfolio of medical research projects spanning a wide range of eye conditions. But what do we mean by medical research?

There are different stages involved in medical research, and each stage has a key part to play. Today we want to highlight how the early-stage work that we fund is crucial for our understanding of vision, as well as aiding the development of treatments, early diagnosis, and prevention.

In honour of Research Appreciation Day, we asked our researchers why early-stage research is so important.

“Early-stage research is vital because it builds the groundwork for developing innovative treatments and preventing diseases.”

Anastasios Papadam, PhD, University of Aberdeen

What is early-stage research?

The majority of the medical research that Fight for Sight / Vision Foundation fund is early-stage. Early-stage (or ‘basic’) research involves understanding the fundamental processes involved in disease and sets the groundwork for potential treatments. Think of it as the essential building blocks upon which clinical research is built.
When asked about why early-stage research is so important, Dr Sergio Bertazzo at University College London said:

“The early stage is the most important part of scientific research in general. It’s where you understand the fundamentals of a system or disease. Without this early research, it’s impossible to evolve to diagnosis and treatments. It's as simple as that: you need to know what you are studying to be able to study it. The early stage is when you understand what you are studying.”

From bench to bedside: what role does early-stage research have to play?

Medical research can be broken down into three key stages:

1. Basic (or early-stage) research
This is where we seek to understand key biological and chemical processes, typically in a laboratory. This is the type of research that Fight for Sight primarily fund.

2. Translational Research
This is where we apply the knowledge we’ve gained from basic research and start to turn it into something that could be used in clinical practice.

3. Clinical Research
This is where we evaluate whether these treatments developed in the translational research stage are safe and effective in people.

“Vision is perhaps the most complex process that the human body is capable of, and thus early-stage research is often necessary to unveil the fundamentals behind vision disorders.”

Dr Ben Mead, Cardiff University

The defining feature of early-stage research is that it seeks to learn more about how biological processes work and test new ideas and concepts. It can involve anything from understanding more about how a condition develops to identifying what needs to be tested to explore potential treatment ideas in a lab-based setting.

Close-up of researcher in a lab wearing blue gloves looking through a microscope

Why is early-stage eye research important?

Early-stage research is essential to continue broadening our knowledge of eye conditions. Dr Lakshanie Wickramasinghe describes how early-stage research can help us understand links between the eye and other organs in the body:

“Interestingly, some patients who have eye disease also have concurrent disease in their joint, gut and/or skin. Whether there is a link between the eye and other affected organs is not well known. In our research, we are exploring this link and the shared pathways that are affected. We hope that our research will lead to the development of new medicines that can treat multiple conditions simultaneously.”

“Early-stage research is fundamental to improving our understanding of how cells within the eye communicate with each other in settings of health and disease.”

Dr Lakshanie Wickramasinghe, University of Oxford

Dr Lakshanie Wickramasinghe in the lab

Deepening our understanding of eye conditions can also help us learn how to diagnose them quicker, which in turn can improve outcomes in some conditions.  According to Professor Fiona Rowe, University of Liverpool, “the earlier we can detect and accurately diagnose visual conditions” the earlier we can “offer timely advice, management and support”.

Expanding our knowledge

Continuing to fund early-stage research is vital simply to keep expanding what we know, so that we can keep developing and exploring novel ideas and facilitate clinical research. Speaking on the topic, Professor Marcela Votruba of Cardiff University said: “Early-stage research needs to break the knowledge barriers we have and help us develop new treatments”.

Fight for Sight / Vision Foundation are committed to funding pioneering eye research. Today we’re celebrating the essential work that wouldn’t happen without all of our researchers and supporters.

“Early-stage research gives novel insights to vision science, exploring the yet to be found. Without it, life-changing discoveries and treatment wouldn’t be possible.”

Marcos Costa, PhD, University College London

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