The ORBITAL (Ocular Research by Integrated Training and Learning) Network hosted their largest digital conference yet, as part of their Mid-Term Check with the EU Commission.
The event brought in 70 participants across 11 countries for a 2-day showcase of research, innovation, and training in the areas of drug delivery and ocular research. ORBITAL Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) were the focus of the event.
ORBITAL is an EU-funded Marie Sklodowska-Curie Innovation Training Network (MSCA-ITN). It is coordinated out of WIT by Dr. Laurence Fitzhenry of the Ocular Therapeutics Research Group in the PMBRC. ORBITAL trains 15 early stage researchers (PhD students) across Europe to develop drug delivery technologies that can help treat posterior segment diseases of the eye, e.g. age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. In so doing, ORBITAL aims to improve the quality of life and clinical outcomes for patients with these conditions.
The conference, hosted by Dr. Raj Thakur of Queens University Belfast, focused heavily on the Patient Perspective, a key area of training for ORBITAL researchers. The first day began with an informal discussion between the researchers and Margaret Critchley, a woman living with AMD in Ireland, who came to ORBITAL through Fighting Blindness, a partner organization within the consortium.
“ORBITAL is very much about connecting the research directly to the patient and the patient perspective, at all times. We want to help our researchers to consider the person living with AMD while they develop these technologies, because it helps us understand what these patients need and want. Voices like Margaret, and organizations like Fighting Blindness help us ensure that we never forget the core of what our research aims are,” Dr. Fitzhenry says.
The conference also provided training on understanding Intellectual Property Rights, how to communicate and organize research projects, thinking ahead to the future of research in this area, regulatory perspectives on drug technology, and how to work with patients, clinicians, and the public when discussing the research. Guest speakers included Dr. Orla Galvin from RETINA International, Dr. Peter-Morgan Warren, former Medical Assessor at MHRA, Dr. Eimear O’Conner from Queens University Belfast, and WIT’s own James O’Sullivan. Additionally, the Macular Society provided an informative and nuanced video, again focusing on the Patient Perspective. All of this was developed with the ESRs training in mind.
“[I]t was a pleasure to be a member of the planning committee. I could provide my input as a representative of all the ESRs, and raise their questions and concerns. This helped make the event truly ESR centric, as everyone is at a very different stage in their research. Also all the projects are unique; ESR posters and presentations were an interesting part of the meeting where ESRs had an opportunity to showcase their work, ideas and dissemination skills,” says ESR 2, Shilpkala Gade, QUB, who served on the planning committee with ESR 3, Deepak Mishra.
The ESRs within ORBITAL displayed their research to the community through both posters and live presentations in the first ever All-ORBITAL Early Stage Researcher Showcase. These presentations were broken up over the two-day period, and led by ORBITAL Beneficiary Institutions Experimentica, Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, and Queens University Belfast. Overall, there were 7 awards given to 5 ORBITAL ESRs for their work.
The conference was a timely reminder that despite serious setbacks faced due to the global Coronavirus Pandemic, the members of the ORBITAL consortium have shown an incredible flexibility, ensuring the continuation of research excellence in the area of ocular drug delivery.
“This was the first chance for ORBITAL to really showcase our outputs and research, and we couldn’t have done it without the entire consortium behind us,” emphasized Dr. Fitzhenry.
“The agility the whole group has shown, and in particular, the ESRs, in the face of massive disruptions is remarkable, and I think this conference demonstrated that. We are in a great place to continue their remarkable research, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.”
Thanks goes to Queens Univerisity Belfast, Dr. Raj Thakur, ESRs Shilpkala Gade and Deepak Mishra, Professor Carmen Isabel Alvarez Lorenzo, Dr. Giedrius Kalesnykas, Fighting Blindness, Margaret Critchely, Dr. Orla Galvin, Dr. Peter-Morgan Warren, Dr. Eimear O’Conner, and James O’Sullivan, as well as all of the ORBITAL beneficiaries and partners for making this meeting possible.
This project is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions (grant agreement – No 813440)
To learn more about ORBITAL and stay updated on the latest news, check out Orbital-ITN.eu