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New eye allergy centre unveils vision to fight hay fever

5 March 2008 – for immediate release

The country’s first Ocular Allergy Centre, based at Aston University, Birmingham, is set to take a leading role in the fight against hay fever and animal and dust allergies.

Ocular allergies currently affect up to 20 per cent of the population but the subject, to date, has remained under-researched.

The investment sees a pooling of resources by two regional centres of excellence – the anterior eye expertise of Aston University’s Academy of Life Sciences (AALS)/Optometry Programme – the largest in the UK – and the University of Worcester’s National Pollen and Aerobiology Research Unit (NPARU).

This pioneering collaboration, part of the Birmingham Science City initiative, has enabled the launch of the £249,000 centre – based at Aston University – and will make the West Midlands the national leader in an emerging area. £183,000 of this funding was provided by Advantage West Midlands.

Equipment at the facility includes a special camera that uses military technology. By using a £25,000 ocular thermographer – which provides thermal images of the eye – scientists can identify optical ‘hot spots’, which are inflamed and irritated. It is the first time such a piece of equipment has been used in Britain, and it uses the same technology that the US military employ in places like Afghanistan to find bodies – or hiding enemies.

The project team has recruited around 150 volunteers, who suffer from ocular allergies, for tests – and are collating information from them on lifestyles, jobs, locations and other relevant factors. Following detailed examination and analysis, around 50 of these volunteers will be selected to progress to the more detailed second stage of the study, which is being held at Aston University.

Dr Andrew Todd, Strategic Technology Transfer Officer at Advantage West Midlands, said: ‘This collaboration will improve understanding of what treatments work well in different conditions, develop new treatments and set up the UK’s first Ocular Allergy Centre. Local businesses such as optometrists and pharmacists can develop their businesses through engaging in the project and improving their knowledge and skills. This will lead to improved advice and better treatment for sufferers.

‘Birmingham Science City is about demonstrating how the science and technology in West Midlands universities can improve the quality of life of people in the region and support local businesses. The project is the first of many Science City projects which will show how the West Midlands is leading the way in the application of new technologies.’

Dr Shehzad Naroo, Lecturer and Director of Postgraduate Development (Optometry) at Aston University and Vice-President of the International Association of Contact lens Educators, said: ‘This unique project combines the skills of NPARU from the University of Worcester and the Ophthalmic Research Group (ORG) of Aston University to develop what we believe to be the UK’s first ocular allergy centre.

‘So far the project is going extremely well and has included participation from local practitioners and businesses. The initial recruitment was intended for 150 people and that was met very easily. We have now entered phase two of the study where we will be investigating further patient who showed a positive response to grass allergens.’

Dr Claire Potter, Business Development & Project Manager at NPARU, said: ‘The unique opportunity that arises from bringing together Worcester and Aston’s respective expertise means that the West Midlands can develop a national lead in this field. Ocular allergy is responsible for decreased work efficiency and days off work so improved management will improve regional productivity.’

It is hoped the ongoing tests on volunteers – due to be finalised by the end of the month – will reveal:

• An estimate of the prevalence of ocular allergies in the region;

• The severity of signs and symptoms relating to the eyes as a result of allergies;

• The most effective way of managing allergies.

Participants have attended a series of free consultations and treatments at Aston University, including initial skin allergy tests, to discover whether they are allergic to common airborne allergens.

By 2015 it is estimated that half of the population of Europe will be affected by eye allergies such as hay fever. It imposes a notable economic cost through lost productivity, days off school and work, cost of treatments and remedies.

Hay fever was virtually unknown 200 years ago and while genetics play a role in susceptibility, evidence suggests that the increase in prevalence is strongly linked to environmental factors, such as pollution, and aspects of modern lifestyle, such as hygiene and use of antibiotics.

ENDS

For more information on the grant please contact Jonathan Sharp on t: 0121 503 3492, m: 07766 470698 or e:jonathansharp@advantagewm.co.uk

For further press information regarding the Centre activity please contact Hannah Brookes on 0121 204 4549.

Notes to Editors:

Advantage West Midlands is one of nine Regional Development Agencies in England whose role is to provide leadership and action to create more, better jobs and an improved quality of life for all in the West Midlands.

Birmingham Science City is a widely drawn partnership of industry, business, education and the public sector, working together to establish the West Midlands region as a centre for world-class scientific research. By building on the region’s well established reputation for innovation; working closely with the knowledge base and bringing partners together through supported projects and communications, Birmingham Science City aims to promote the value of science and innovation in improving lives.

For more information please visit www.birminghamsciencecity.co.uk or contact Alison Rowan, Press & Media Relations Manager at a.rowan@warwick.ac.uk or on 07876 218166.

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