The BMF succeeded in gathering thirty experts of international prestige and reputation at the B·Debate Fighting Blindness. Future Challenges and Opportunities for Visual Restoration. They came from very diverse and heterogeneous fields but all were focused on our Foundation’s mission, our principal concern: how to halt visual pathologies that lead to blindness and that are incurable today and how to regenerate the retina damaged by AMD, Stargardt’s Disease or Retinitis Pigmentosa.
An expert in nanotechnology does not see the eye in the same way as a researcher into stem cells. The same is true about photonics, optogenetics, regenerative therapies, artificial vision etc. Our intention was precisely that: to draw the talents of internationally-recognised talent from highly diverse disciplines and bring them into our field. We are pleased to say that we achieved this.
We have often been asked these days what we have gained from the B·Debate. While the forum has not given rise to any revolutionary treatment, we have the certainty that this will come. Some trials are beginning to produce their initial results such as the use of stem cells to regenerate retina. Soon to be a reality too is the implantation of biological chips in the retina and the electronic chips in the brain that enable it not only to detect light but also to be able to interpret it.
In five or ten years, we will have improved greatly in the treatment of some forms of blindness. Perhaps we will have been able to conquer one of them. However, we cannot lose touch with reality: every five seconds someone loses their sight. And every blind person becomes so due to specific factors that can determine the development of the disease. These may be improved by a particular treatment or immune to the most proven techniques.
There are 285 million people with impaired vision in the world. Thirty-nine million people are blind, while a further 246 million suffer from low vision, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). One in every four people of over 80 years old will suffer from Age-Related Macular Degeneration. In Spain, this disease affects 300,000 people. Fifteen thousand have retinitis pigmentosa and up to 60,000 carry the genetic mutations responsible for the pathology. In addition, one in every 4,000 people suffer from Stargardt’s Disease. Unfortunately, we only have treatment for specific manifestations of wet AMD.
At the B·Debate, we have connected disciplines that will provide us with the skills to employ successfully one day on a single patient. There is a long way to go but we have great talent within reach. Each day, we know more about how to address retinal dystrophies, but each relevant discovery requires the investment of time and resources to take us deeper and further. Science is moving very quickly but degenerative retinal diseases are going even faster and are devastating for those affected. We are working every day to fight them.