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Celebrating a visionary man on World Sight Day 

Close-up portrait of a beautiful female blue eye
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To celebrate World Sight Day on 10 October 2013, the Macular Disease Foundation Australia’s Ambassadors Jan Utzon and Jean Kittson are joining forces to highlight the enormous impact macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in Australia, has had on their parent’s lives.

Jørn Utzon, who designed Australia’s iconic Sydney Opera House, lived with macular degeneration in his later life. “My father, Jørn Utzon, was a visionary man and witnessing his sight deteriorate from macular degeneration was heartbreaking. The trauma the disease inflicts is enormous and I urge society to make greater efforts in research to find a cure,” said Jan from his home in Denmark.

Jean Kittson’s mother Elaine, like so many Australians, proudly witnessed the Sydney Opera House being designed and built 40 years ago. Today Elaine has severe vision loss from macular degeneration and like thousands of older Australians of her generation, has lost her central vision, “Little did mum know that 40 years on she would not be able to see the world famous Sydney Opera House,” said daughter Jean.

Over 1 million people (1 in 7 over 50) show some evidence of macular degeneration and those who have a direct family history, like Macular Disease Foundation Australia Ambassadors Jan and Jean, have a 50% chance of developing the disease. Jean’s mother, both her uncles and one of their parents, as well as other family ancestors, have been affected by macular degeneration.

Julie Heraghty CEO of Macular Disease Foundation Australia said, “Research is a journey of discovery with the ultimate destination being a place where we can save sight, so that all Australians can see a future. Through the generosity of the Australian community, the Foundation is continuing to invest heavily in macular degeneration research to realise this important goal.”

The Foundation will be awarding the prestigious Macular Disease Foundation Australia Research Grants of $600,000 to outstanding Australian researchers at an event; Through his Eyes, which will be hosted in the Utzon Room at Sydney Opera House:

  • Associate Professor Erica Fletcher Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience, The University of Melbourne and
  • Associate Professor Damien Harkin School of Biomedical Sciences, Queensland University of Technology and the Queensland Eye Institute.

Associate Professor Fletcher will undertake research to examine how the removal of debris in the eyes changes as we age and this work will be crucial for developing new treatments for macular degeneration. Associate Professor Harkin will examine a protein extracted from silk as a form of scaffold on which to grow new retinal tissue, which may eventually help maintain or restore vision.

During the event, a photo tribute to Jørn Utzon will be displayed in the Utzon Room of Sydney Opera House. The photos are moments in time of Jørn Utzon’s life and celebrate a man of vision. A pair of Jørn Utzon’s glasses will also be on display which symbolize a great man’s vision and were donated to the Foundation by his son Jan.

(Source: Macular Disease Foundatioin Australia)

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Posted On: 4 October, 2013
Modified On: 16 January, 2014

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