New treatments could help prevent sight loss for children with eye cancer

Fight for Sight Logo

28 November 2018
Source: Fight for Sight

Eye research charity, Fight for Sight, is launching a campaign to raise awareness of eye cancer retinoblastoma and is announcing funding for vital research that could help save the sight of children with the condition.

Researchers at Newcastle University will be using the latest pioneering stem cell techniques to develop a ‘model’ for the disease that could result in improved treatments. This model will use stem cells taken from blood samples of patients with retinoblastoma and will enable researchers to gain more information about which retinal cells are affected. Researchers believe that their findings will help to better predict those patients whose sight could be saved as well as increasing the success of eye injections during chemotherapy so that the therapy reaches every affected cell.

Retinoblastoma is a rare type of eye cancer which is most common in children under five. Approximately one child every week in the UK is diagnosed with retinoblastoma. The cancer is successfully treated in over 95% of cases but nearly 40% of those with the condition lose one eye. The charity is encouraging parents to be aware of the symptoms of retinoblastoma and to take their child to an eye care professional or GP for further tests if they have concerns.

Kalli McAllister, 33, was diagnosed with retinoblastoma as a child. Her own diagnosis made her extra vigilant with her daughter Autumn and at 10 months old it was discovered that she too had eye cancer. Kalli and Autumn are supporting the research by donating their stem cells. Kalli said: “Autumn is lucky because her cancer was spotted early. However, there are so many kids and parents in the waiting room whose situation is far worse than ours. It’s so important for parents to proactively look after their child’s eye health. If only one parent spots a symptom and acts upon it due to this campaign, it will have been a success.”

Dr Neil Ebenezer, Fight for Sight’s Director of Research, Policy and Innovation, said: “Retinoblastoma is a cancer that mainly affects young children, which can in some cases lead to sight loss or the removal of the affected eye. We would like to empower families to be able to identify the signs which could one day help save their child’s sight. We are also funding research that could benefit many children in future”

He added: “The stage of disease detection often determines the outcomes, so it’s vital that parents are vigilant and are able to recognise the early signs. These symptoms could be due to a number of other less serious conditions so it’s important to make sure that children get their eyes tested.”

Professor Majlinda Lako from Newcastle University, said: “We hope that our research will provide a model in the lab that can be used to understand the genetic events that lead to retinoblastoma tumours as well as to test drugs that go on to clinical trials.”

The signs and symptoms to be aware of include:

  • An unusual white reflection in the pupil – this may occur in photos where only the healthy eyes appears red from the flash
  • Squint
  • Change in the colour of the iris
  • Poor vision – Your child may express that they cannot focus on faces or objects. They may not be able to see as well as they used to
  • Red or inflamed eye

Fight for Sight is working with families like Kalli’s and researchers to raise awareness of retinoblastoma to help prevent sight loss in the future. If you would like to help the charity in making the next big breakthrough please visit http://www.fightforsight.org.uk to make a donation.

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