Prof John Nolan, and Moya Doherty, Producer and RTE chair share story of WIT’s vision research at Leinster House launch European Commission publication

The benefits of Ireland’s EU membership has been reinforced by WIT’s Prof John Nolan and Moya Doherty, Producer and RTE chair who spoke at a launch event in Leinster House about research into macular degeneration at WIT that received major EU funding.

Prof Nolan’s EU-funded research project has been included in a new publication from the European Commission Representation in Ireland: “What’s the Story? 25 stories about Ireland and Europe”.

The launch event in Leinster House highlighted content from the “25 Stories” publication and speeches from Seán Ó Fearghaíl, TD, Ceann Comhairle; Helen McEntee, TD, Minister of State for European Affairs and Gerry Kiely, Head of the European Commission Representation in Ireland.

Funding allowed important research questions to be asked and answered

Professor John Nolan Founder and Director of the Nutrition Research Centre Ireland, based within the School of Health Science at the Waterford Institute of Technology and Moya Doherty, Producer and RTE chair spoke about research into macular degeneration at WIT which has received major EU funding.

Prof Nolan, told those in attendance how the European Research Council Funding Programme allowed him and his team to ask and answer an extremely important research question: Does enrichment of targeted nutrients in the eye enhance vision and reduce risk of the world’s leading cause of age-related blindness, a disease known as age-related macular degeneration, commonly referred to as AMD?

In 2011, the European Research Council Starter Grant allowed Prof Nolan to ask and answer a research question that has changed the world’s view on vision. Through the support of this grant, the Central Retinal Enrichment Supplementation Trial (CREST) was born.

“Put simply, this research has able to prove that enrichment of nutrients at the macula (known as carotenoids), which are natural, safe and cost-effective and sourced from plants, now available in supplement form, have a major impact on the quality of our vision, and have a major impact on protecting our macula, and even in patients with AMD. Our discovery has enormous potential, but only if used correctly and implemented. We can make the world a safer place, we can improve eyesight for society, and for our ageing population,” Prof Nolan said.

Cost-effective solutions

Prof Nolan also took the opportunity to ask the Irish government and Revenue to reconsider the approaching and planned VAT addition to food supplements that have a proven medicinal benefit for patients with AMD. “This would be a wrong decision and a tax on health,” he said.

He added that thanks to the CREST project, thanks to the investment by the European Research Council, we now have sufficient evidence nutritional intervention with safe and cost-effective supplements will enhance the quality of life of our elderly population; and if implemented correctly, will save millions of Euros for healthcare systems in Ireland and across the European Union.

“CREST has made the invisible visible and vision possible,” Prof Nolan said.

Supporting pioneering research

Doherty described how privileged she is to be associated with the research Prof John Nolan and his team have been pioneering since 2002. “Being involved with this research allowed me to support important work while hoping that there could be treatment which might improve the personal circumstances of my family and others,” she explained.

The research under way by Prof Nolan’s team at the WIT research centre Nutrition Research Centre Ireland, she said, is “the perfect example of the way in which good and important research takes place: a little known area of public health being addressed by an expert team of researchers, pushing the boundaries of the known and then, crucially, pursuing ways in which that ‘pure’ research can be brought to bear on those who are affected by the issue.”

Doherty noted her delight that the work of Prof Nolan and his team is being highlighted in this publication because it brings that work to a wider audience.

“I would echo the words of Prof Nolan that in both the Irish and European contexts this research, and others like it, are too important to be the victim of short-term economic thinking, if only because the outcomes of this research will, in the medium to long term, save the country money in terms of those not needing to access the public health system seeking surgery and palliative care,” she added.

Practical examples of EU membership

Launching the Publication, Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl, TD said: ““What’s the Story? – 25 Stories about Ireland and Europe”, contains rich personal stories of the real ways that European cooperation opens the door to economic opportunity and cultural enrichment, both for Irish people and for our fellow Europeans wishing to strengthen ties with Ireland.”

“Since Ireland joined the then-EEC in 1973, our people have developed a deep appreciation of what it means to be a European and a true partner to our fellow EU Member States,” added Ceann Comhairle Ó Fearghaíl, TD.

European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee, TD, said “Since Ireland joined the EU in 1973 we have benefitted hugely from our membership. In that time, we have moved from an isolated island on the fringes of Europe, to a modern island at the heart of EU.  The EU is our home and it is one that we have helped to build and will continue to nourish and improve over the next number of decades.

“Today’s stories give practical examples of how we in Ireland continue to benefit from our membership of the EU.  The EU spans across the entire continent of Europe and allows us to have endless opportunities, to work, live, study and travel in each-others countries.  This is something that we must protect, so that this generation and the ones who follow can continue to benefit from.”

Gerry Kiely, Head of the European Commission Representation in Ireland, said: “One of the greatest stories to be told today is that of Ireland’s relationship with Europe. It’s a tale that has lasted over four decades, and one that will continue to unfold for many future generations. The real story of the European Union and Ireland however can be found in the stories that unfold quietly and without fuss in the communities, businesses, farms, schools and universities around the country.”

The European Commission Representation in Ireland prepared this publication, which draws on examples from communities, businesses, farms, schools and universities across Ireland to highlight some of the ways that Ireland benefits from European Union membership over the past 46 years.

Citizens who featured in “25 Stories” also attended, and other speakers at the event included Margaret Malone of the National Transport Authority who discussed the Clean Energy for EU Islands project which is helping the Aran Islands and Cape Clear to switch to renewable energy.