An all-island tech effort to fight blindness


22 Jun 2009

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Medical scientists from Queen’s University Belfast and researchers at Waterford Institute of Technology have made a potential new breakthrough in the treatment of an incurable but common cause of blindness.

Leading researchers at Queens University Belfast and the Waterford Institute of Technology – known as the CARMA Study Group – unveiled the results of a five-year project into age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

When the research team were asked to broadcast their findings to a select audience of top scientists in Germany, organisers turned to the Tier One connectivity available at NISP to get the message out.

Live-streaming specialists Switch New Media – a NISP tenant company that consists of Richard Jolly and Diarmaid Lynch – managed to beam the event via satellite from the Radisson Hotel to NISP, where fibre-optic cabling (provided by Bytel) linked the pictures up directly with audiences in Germany.

“This groundbreaking study combines the very best of Northern Ireland’s knowledge community,” explained NISP chairman, and Honorary Consul for Germany, Frank Hewitt.

“It is pleasing to see how local experts in the field of medical science and in the science behind new media can co-operate to spread the word about this important breakthrough in the treatment of eye disease.”

With a capacity of 5Gbps, NISP’s exchange uses 19 fibre-optic cables to carry internet-only traffic to three different fibre exchanges via four physical routes. The end result is that data packets from Belfast usually take 20 m/s to reach any other point on the European backbone and 80 m/s to get to the US eastern seaboard.

And all this despite a rate of travel already only marginally slower than by the speed of light – the arrival of Project Kelvin in the north west promises to improve our connectivity rates still further.

The CARMA study has found that the intake of the CARMA supplement can have a positive impact on the prevention of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – the leading cause of blindness in the western world. AMD can cause blurring of central vision by its effects on the macula, which is the central part of the retina.

Patients with late AMD retain peripheral vision but cannot use central vision for reading, watching TV, driving or recognising other peoples’ faces. The CARMA study, which is the first high-quality study on nutritional supplementation with carotenoids in patients with early stage AMD, has found that the intake of the CARMA supplement can have a positive impact on the prevention of the disease.

Dr Usha Chakravarthy, who coordinated the study, is Professor of Ophthalmology and Vision Sciences at the Queen’s University of Belfast and is consultant in the Ophthalmic Division in the Royal Hospital Belfast.

By John Kennedy

Pictured: Switch New Media’s Richard Jolly managing the ‘live streaming’ of a recent conference at Northern Ireland Science Park