independent

Sunday 20 October 2019

Wexford scientist shares €1m prize

Dr. Michael Redmond: honoured for his work in gene therapy
Dr. Michael Redmond: honoured for his work in gene therapy

Maria Pepper

A Wexfordman is among a group of seven scientists who have been awarded a €1 million prize for their work in developing a revolutionary gene therapy cure for a rare genetic form of childhood blindness.

Dr. T. Michael Redmond Ph.D who was born in New Ross and raised and educated in Wexford town was formally congratulated on his achievement by councillors at a meeting of Wexford District Council.

A vision researcher, Dr. Redmond is chief of the National Eye Institute (NEI) Laboratory of Retinal Cell and Molecular Biology in Maryland, USA where he lives with his family.

Along with six other NEI-supported researchers with the National Institutes of Health in America, he was awarded the 2018 Antonio Champalimaud Vision Award for foundational science discoveries about the molecular biology of the retina, the ligh-sensing tissue at the back of the eye.

His work deduced how the RPE65 gene converts dietary Vitamin A into a form of the vitamin that is central to the workings of the visual cycle, the enzymatic processes by which the eye converts light into electrical signals that are sent to the brain.

The award was shared by seven scientists who were collectively recognised for contributions that led to the development and approval of the gene therapy Luxturna for treating Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), an inherited genetic disorder in which children with severe RPE65 mutations can be born blind. Those with less severe mutations may have some vision at birth but often become blind by young adulthood.

Dr. Redmond traced the cause of the disease, Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA) to a mutated gene.

Three co-operating research teams later managed to replace the gene in the eye, restoring vision to children and adults with one form of LCA and enabling the entire field of gene therapy for human disease.

The gene augmentation therapy involved the delivery of healthy genes using engineered harmless viruses, described by the foundation as 'an elegant solution'. Before the development of this gene therapy, this blindness was incurable.

The Vision Award was made by the Champalimaud Foundation which focuses on neuroscience and oncology research at its Lisbon base and was set up at the bequest of Portugal's late industrialist Antonio Champalimaud who died in 2004 and is made in even-numbered years.

'This is the first and still only example of successful gene therapy in humans that corrects an inherited genetic defect and is therefore a milestone in medical therapeutics', said Alfred Sommer, Dean Emeritus of the John Hopkins Bloombert School of Public Health and chairman of the award jury.

Dr Redmond was presented with the award in Lisbon by the President of Portugal Professor Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. The money is to be given to the NEI in support of his research.

'We owe much to Michael Redmond for establishing that defects in the retinal pigment epithelium are among the causes of diseases such as LCA and retinitis pigmentosa and for setting a course toward an effective gene therapy approach to them', said NEI Director Paul A. Sieving,

Dr. Redmond studied at University College Dublin and trained as a protein chemist and molecular biologist at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, later receiving his PhD in 1983 from UCD.

He joined the National Eye Institute (NEI) Laboratory of Retinal Cell and Molecular Biology as a postdoctoral fellow in 1983. He became a tenured investigator in the laboratory in 1990 and lab chief in 2006.

The eldest son of eight children of the late Tom and Ursula Redmond, formerly of Upper William Street, who founded the Wexford Deaf Association which continues today, Michael was born in his father's native New Ross and first educated at CBS New Ross.

After the family moved to Wexford town in 1970, he completed his secondary education at St. Peter's College.

His mother, a native of County Kilkenny, was a sister of the famous horse trailer Paddy Mullins and trainers Willy, Tony and Tom Mullins are Michael's cousins.

Tom, a well-known Wexford tailor and Ursula who met when they were both students of St. Joseph's School for the deaf in Cabra, Dublin, placed an important value on education and worked hard to ensure that all of their children attended college.

Michael developed a passion for science in his teens and was a participant in the Young Scientist Exhibition. His special interests are photography and ornithology.

He is a regular visitor to Wexford, making a point of visiting the county's many ornithological sites.

He is married to Julia and they have two grown-up children Thomas and Catherine.

At a meeting of Wexford District Council, members and officials joined with Sinn Fein councillor Thomas Forde and Labour councillor George Lawlor in congratulating the Wexfordman on his great scientific achievement.

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