eye 250

London, Essex and Hertfordshire eye disease patients helping to drive innovative research

Date: 21 November 2018

Eye disease patients have more opportunity than ever to take part in NHS research studies.

  • 76 per cent of hospitals in England now offer patients the opportunity to take part in eye disease studies
  • 15,500 patients per year offered innovative treatments for diseases such as age-related macular degeneration
  • Ophthalmology community ‘punching above its weight’ in world of research
  • Long-term strategy is ‘crucial’ to transforming treatment and to ‘ease burden on the NHS’


A new paper published today highlights how some 76 per cent of hospitals in England now offer patients the opportunity to take part in studies of eye disease to improve research and innovation.

 ‘Ophthalmology research in the UK’s National Health Service: the structure and performance of the NIHR’s Ophthalmology research portfolio’ published in Eye, the scientific journal of The Royal College of Ophthalmologists, shines a light on the work done by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to promote and foster a new wave of ophthalmic research.

In the North Thames area of London, Essex and Hertfordshire, a staggering 24,509 patients have taken part in NIHR eye research since 2010.

The paper, authored by the NIHR Ophthalmology Specialty Group, also points to the need for a long-term strategy and greater financial support in the field of eye health.

Eye disease research only receives one per cent of the £2billion research spend in the UK but has delivered a growth in the number of eye and vision loss studies in the NHS’s research portfolio.  Both non-commercial and commercial investment has meant that an average of 15,500 patients per year are now being offered innovative treatments for the common but life-changing diseases of glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.

The number of patients /100,000 population getting involved in research in this region is the second highest in the country, with many of the studies being run from the prestigious Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (Moorfields) the leading provider of eye health services in the UK and a world-class centre of excellence for ophthalmic research and education.

Praveen Patel, Consultant Ophthalmologist and Investigator on numerous trials, is one of several eminent researchers working from Moorfields, and also Clinical Lead for Ophthalmology at the NIHR’s Clinical Research Network North Thames. Commenting on research in the area he said:

"It’s wonderful to witness how NHS ophthalmology research teams are offering an increasing number of patients with eye disease, access to next generation, transformative treatments through NIHR trials. This would not be possible without the efforts of patients, Ophthalmology services in NHS Trusts and research delivery teams at the NIHR Clinical Research Network coming together with the aim of improving treatments and care through research run within the NHS."

But Moorfields are by no means the only local Trust running these studies. The Barnet site of the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust is also a leading provider for eye health offering high quality research trials.

One of the latest of these, a study exploring new treatment for patients with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), recently achieved ‘first European recruit’ status. An achievement not only important as a performance indicator for the global life-sciences industry, but also as a message to patients, demonstrating accessibility to trials. 

The new drugs being evaluated provide clinicians with the ability to prevent severe visual loss whilst potentially reducing the patient need for repeat treatments and lowering costs to the NHS.  

Almost 2 million people live with sight loss in the UK and it costs the UK economy some £28billion per year. Ophthalmology remains the single busiest out-patient specialty in hospitals in the UK, with a million out-patient visits for glaucoma per year.

Professor Rupert Bourne, lead author and the national specialty lead for ophthalmology at the National Institute for Health Research, said:

“Over the last eight years, the Ophthalmology community has been instrumental in putting eye research in the UK on the map, particularly in novel research areas such as gene therapies, drug delivery systems, robotic surgery and artificial intelligence. Many of these studies are international in scope and this report showcases the collaborative nature of eye research in the NHS.

“It’s clear the UK continues to punch above its weight when it comes to innovative research for eye disease, but sadly eye health is not the research priority it should be. A long-term strategy of investment and advocacy is crucial if we’re to continue to transform prevention and treatment for patients with eye disease, and help ease the financial burden on the NHS.”

The report also looked at the gender balance in lead researchers of NHS eye research studies and found this to be broadly similar to the ratio of male and female consultants in the UK. It also highlighted the importance of Trainee-led Research Networks in the UK.


Mike Burdon, president of The Royal College of Ophthalmologists, said:

“In order to continue to innovate and bring about advancements in sight saving treatment, we must encourage trainees to participate in research early in their careers, such as Sarah Dawson and Emma Linton’s contributions to this report. 

“Preserving the sight of patients is what ophthalmologists do and by participating in research, they will ultimately benefit their generation and future generations to eradicate blindness.”

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    76 per cent of hospitals in England now offer patients the opportunity to take part in studies of eye disease to improve research and innovation.
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