Vision for fighting blindness unfolds at €4m ‘blue sky’ labs in Waterford

20 Feb 2015

Prof John Nolan, MPRG; Alicia O'Rourke, European Research Council; Rachel Moran, scientist, MPRG; and Dr Alan Howard, chairman of the Trustees of the Howard Foundation, England. Photo by Patrick Browne

Ambitions to generate a viable industry creating technologies to fight blindness have been bolstered with the opening of two new labs at the €4m Vision Research Centre at Waterford Institute of Technology.

The new lab will support the Macular Pigment Research (MRPG) to develop more efficient methods for harvesting lutein, a nutrient essential for optimal vision and protection against the leading case of blindness, age-related macular degeneration.

The Howard Laboratory (analytical chemical laboratory) and the Darwin Laboratory (biotechnology laboratory) are the latest additions to the Vision Research Centre, which houses the MPRG.

The construction of both laboratories has been supported by the Howard Foundation, England; Nutrasight Consultancy Ltd; and the Waterford Institute of Technology.

“The global demand for lutein is growing rapidly as people begin to understand the importance of this nutrient for eye heath and general well-being,” said Prof John Nolan, principal director of MPRG.

“With the aid of our new and specialised world-class laboratories, and funding from the European Research Council, we are investigating efficient ways to generate and obtain lutein from natural sources.

“This is important because we are currently dependent on the marigold flower, which is highly seasonal and country dependent. If this project is successful we will greatly advance science in this area and generate opportunity for major industry in Ireland,” Nolan added.

In the past year, the Howard Foundation committed €1m to support the continuation of the research by Nolan and his team.

“It will be a great advantage to have the study of macular pigments in one location and it will help maintain the tremendous growth taking place in this important and valuable area of research,” said Dr Alan Howard, chairman of the Trustees of the Howard Foundation.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years