ARVO/Champalimaud Lecture 2017
The Annual Meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) is the largest gathering of eye and vision researchers in the world, attracting over 11,000 attendees from more than 75 countries, and it is taking place in Baltimore, USA, 7 – 11 May, 2017.
Champalimaud Foundation President Leonor Beleza spoke at this year’s meeting to open the ARVO/Champalimaud Award Lecture, in which she spoke about the goals of the António Champalimaud Vision Award, the progress already achieved, and the future challenges to be faced through innovation and dedication.
The full opening speech of Champalimaud Foundation President Leonor Beleza:
“Welcome, once again, to this meeting of likeminded scientists, doctors, activist, friends, colleagues and partners. What a pleasure it is to be here in Baltimore to join you in celebrating the incredible work done worldwide in finding new ways to give sight and hope to those in need. But we are here also to look at what is still to be done and how we can work together to find new ways of treating vision problems. And it is fitting to be here in Baltimore, the city that launched the NEI’s Audacious Goals Initiative, as we try to ‘think outside the box’ in the search for new solutions.
It was recognition for the magnitude of this task that led to the creation of the António Champalimaud Vision Award. This recognition and awe spans many geographic regions and many different parts of our societies. The dedication of healthcare professionals, volunteers, communities, families, scientists and NGOs all play crucial roles in fighting for a world where everywhere has the right to sight. And this is why I believe that a prize dedicated to these efforts must recognise both ends of the spectrum.
At one end, we must remember the daily fight in the developing world to tackle problems that have long-since ceased to be severe in the west. In our advanced technological societies we often take the existence of effective medicine for granted, and it can easily be forgotten how lives and communities can be destroyed when this type of health coverage is not available. I have seen first-hand the despair and loss of life quality of someone suffering from cataracts. And yet I have also had the privilege of seeing how a single surgeon at relatively low-cost can deliver over 100 cataract surgeries in a single day, returning sight and hope back to each patient in a procedure lasting just 10 minutes.
This is no less true of those who suffer from many other blinding diseases in the developing world. The thought that one of us in this room may one day lose our sight to onchocerciasis or trachoma is beyond our wildest dreams, protected, as we are, by our modern medicine and sanitation. But as we know all too well, this basic human right to conditions of adequate healthcare is often lacking in less fortunate parts of the world. And that is why we must remain thankful to the many organisations that seek to extend modern healthcare coverage across under-served regions.
But there is another side to this fight with vision disorders, at the bottom of our medical and technological solutions to vision disorders lies a fundamental scientific basis. And for each development of a technology like the modern intra-ocular lens, there are a huge number of scientists who have dedicated their lives to improving the lives of others through their endeavours. What is routine in medicine today was often considered impossible just a couple of generations ago and our commitment to funding science is integral to this development. So while cures for retinitis pigmentosa or diabetic retinopathy have proved elusive so far, I have no doubt that work ongoing by the many dedicated researchers around the world offers hope and a ray of light to sufferers worldwide.
So, in fighting blindness worldwide we have come to rely on this duality of outstanding health work in the field and cutting-edge scientific developments. And it is this duality that lies at the heart of the António Champalimaud Vision Award and its mission to recognise the excellence of all “sight-givers” at both ends of this crucial spectrum. In odd numbered years the award has focused on the groups and organisations, active in the developing world, that offer clinical interventions to those in need. In even numbered years the award goes to active research teams that have furthered our understanding of vision.
It is now the 10th year that I have presented the Champalimaud Vision Award laureates here at the annual ARVO meeting and I have been privileged to introduce work that crosses continents and scientific barriers. In the ‘humanitarian’ version of the award we have travelled through India, Nepal, and much of Africa in identifying the most outstanding eye care work in the field. And in the scientific prize we have recognised work on the human visual pigments and their relation to vision; research into how the brain reconstructs images to give us sight; discovery of novel approaches to visualizing the human living retina; and the development of Anti-Angiogenic Therapy for Retinal Disease. And to add to this diverse group of work I could not be more proud to introduce the work of our most recent winners.
The 2016 António Champalimaud Vision Award recognised the work of 4 laboratories that have illuminated our understanding of the way in which our eyes send signals to the appropriate areas of the brain. Much of what we currently know about the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in establishing and sculpting the patterns of retinal projections comes from the individual and collective efforts of John Flanagan, Christine Holt, Carol Mason and Carla Shatz. Their work has shone light on the connection between the two fundamental organs responsible for vision - the eye and the brain - and their ground-breaking work has greatly advanced our understanding of the visual system.
Aside from their superb scientific achievements I believe it is important to draw attention to another significant factor. The fact that 3 of last year’s award laureates are women is greatly pleasing to me as someone who believes very strongly in equal female representation and opportunity in all walks of life. We at the Champalimaud Foundation ensure that female researchers and clinicians are able to contribute to the fullest extent of their talents and Drs. Holt, Mason and Shatz are truly an inspiration to all.
I also owe a few words and a debt of gratitude to our vision award jury, which has been tireless each year in its search for the most deserving work. Led by the incredible Al Sommer, the jury has recognised work from 4 continents and the time, effort and thought that goes into choosing the winner each year never ceases to amaze me.
The integrity and rigour with which the António Champalimaud Vision Award operates is representative of all that we do at the Champalimaud Foundation. With our focus primarily on cancer and neuroscience, we strive to reveal new frontiers in science and to create new therapies in the clinic. And we do all of this in a building that represents our search for the unknown.
So, it remains for me to thank Emily Chew and all at ARVO for their constant and valued friendship. Since I first came here in 2006 I have been inspired every year at this meeting and always return home full of ideas and energy. And in looking to the future I would like to leave you with a few words of introduction to a very special event organised by the Champalimaud Foundation and ARVO next year.
The 2018 ARVO Ocular Oncogenesis and Oncology Conference will take place at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown in July and will be the year’s leading forum for discussion on this important area. This will be a fully inclusive event welcoming participation and input from all over the world. With the focus my organisation has both on oncology and vision we look forward to hosting this event and we look forward to another step in our growing partnership with ARVO. I hope of course to see many of you there and I will look forward to welcoming you to the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown."