Biomedical Engineering part of international vision research project

Biomedical Engineering part of international vision research project

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The Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering at Rowan University is part of an international team working to preserve the vision of patients with some of the leading causes of blindness.

Dr. Mark Byrne, founding department head and professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, is an advisor and collaborator in the ORBITAL (Ocular Research By Integrated Training and Learning) European Training Network program. ORBITAL, funded with €4m (about $4.5 million U.S.) by the European Union, will work to develop improved, less-invasive treatments of diseases of the back of the eye, such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic eye disease.

Led by Ireland’s Pharmaceutical and Molecular Biotechnology Research Centre in the Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), ORBITAL is a training network that will recruit and train 15 early-stage researchers (Ph.D. students) across Europe to develop drug-delivery technologies that can help treat eye diseases.

The network is a consortium of 23 members from Europe, the United States and Canada, including academics, industry representatives, clinicians, patient advocacy groups and hospitals. The goal is to train Ph.D. candidate researchers, ensuring that they have a clear focus on patient needs and interdisciplinary skills. ORBITAL also will include outreach, dissemination, and patient and public engagement.

Byrne, said he and his team will advise a number of doctoral students who will conduct part of their research and training at Rowan. The Rowan professors/researchers also will conduct training cyber sessions with students and others in Europe and North America.

The initiative is an exciting one for the professor, who is recognized internationally for his work in the vision field. “We are getting great scientists together who are conducting some of the best research on eyes and ocular treatments,” Byrne said. “When you get a number of different research groups and universities of this calibre together, sharing knowledge and ideas is exciting and really means the work is going to move forward more quickly, ultimately leading to technologies to help patients.”

Current treatments for a form of AMD and other conditions include injections, which can be unpleasant for patients. Lauded as a timely new approach to meet the challenges of these devastating eye diseases, ORBITAL will contribute to research that could lead to more widespread use of less-invasive drug-delivery methods such as eye drops, contact lenses and microneedle technologies.

By understanding what patients and clinicians need in practice, the project aims to train researchers to have the skills necessary to develop these patient-friendly drug delivery technologies and ultimately improve patient experiences and outcomes.

According to WIT researcher Dr Laurence Fitzhenry, who heads the project, “There is a clear need for efficient, safe, less-invasive and more patient-friendly strategies for the treatment of AMD and diabetic eye disease. These diseases represent a considerable and growing burden on patients and healthcare systems throughout the world. Given the statistics, there is a lack of researchers being trained with the necessary interdisciplinary skills needed to combat such increasing burdens.”

Fitzhenry and the team recently were awarded the Horizon 2020 Marie Sklodowska-Curie European Training Network award, worth €4m, to fund ORBITAL, which starts in September.

Consortium members: Beneficiaries: Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland; Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, Spain; The Queen’s University of Belfast, Northern Ireland; Instituto Superior Técnico, Portugal; University of Iceland (Haskoli Islands), Iceland; University of Birmingham, United Kingdom; Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain; University College Dublin, Ireland; Experimentica, Finland; Nanovector SRL, Italy; Ocupharm Diagnostics, Spain

Partner organizations: Neuregenix Ltd., UK; HGBeyond, Spain; Rowan University; Colorado School of Mines; Loyola University of Chicago; University of Waterloo, Canada; University of Parma, Italy; South Jersey Technology Park-based OcuMedic Inc., which Byrne founded and for which he serves as CTO; The Vision Clinic, Ireland; Fighting Blindness, Ireland; Hospital das Forcas Armadas, Portugal; Egas Moniz, Portugal