Out of Sight puts focus on vision loss

(Edmonton) The ophthalmology department in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry at the University of Alberta will be hosting its second annual “Out of Sight” fundraiser this Saturday for research into conditions and diseases causing inherited vision loss.

This fundraiser takes place at the Crowne Plaza Chateau Lacombe where dinner is served in a dimly lit ballroom and guests wear dark sunglasses or blackout sleep masks so they can experience what it is like to have vision loss. Artwork by a renowned sight-impaired artist will be auctioned at the event.

Last year the fundraiser raised $100,000 for ophthalmology research and equipment. Organizers hope to raise $75,000 or more, which will go towards vision-related basic science and clinical research, as well as equipment for the new ophthalmology research lab on the U of A’s North campus.

Eric Hartman , a sight-impaired artist from New Orleans, will have some of his work available for auction. Self taught, Hartman had worked for 10 years as a papier-mâché sculptor, achieving first regional and then national recognition for his work. In recent years, he has set aside his sculpture tools and turned his artistic endeavours to a new direction: impressionist oil paintings.

Hartman has an inherited eye disease called choroideremia. He was diagnosed at age 11 after experiencing severe night blindness, a key symptom of the disease. It wasn’t until he was 44 years old that he met someone else who had the same disease, which affects one in 50,000 people. Women are carriers for the disease, which affects males and can be diagnosed as early as age five.

“When I was growing up I was told there was no research going on, and this money can really help multiple generations of people,” said Hartman. “It’s not just the people who have the eye disease—it’s their families and their offspring.

“There are many wonderful young ladies who are carriers who, in the back of their minds and their parents’ minds, are worried about their child getting this eye disease. With the research that is being done here and in a couple of other spots around the world there is significant hope that there will be a cure.”

Ian MacDonald, the chair of the ophthalmology department, is a world renowned expert and researcher in choroideremia. MacDonald said he is excited that patients who currently have the disease now have genuine hope “that a true treatment could be available in their lifetime,” thanks to research being conducted at the U of A and abroad. MacDonald worked with others to help find the genetic marker for the disease and says gene therapy treatment may soon be available.