Russell's Story

"At the time I was told that I'd got macular degeneration, I didn't know anything about it at all."

In 2011, during a regular optician’s check, Russell was told that he had macular degeneration and the optician referred him to University Hospital Southampton’s Eye Unit. Subsequently, Eye Unit doctors confirmed that not only did he have dry macular degeneration in both eyes, but also wet degeneration in his left eye. Russell, as most of us would have, turned to the internet for answers. He found various references indicating to the severity of the condition, including how fast it could take hold. With wet macular degeneration, Russell was at risk of losing his vision very quickly, maybe even in a matter of months.

"I thought my whole world was going to be turned upside down."

Hospital corridor with blue double doors at the end

"The Eye Unit doctors explained to me that they could give me injections to slow down or maybe cure the wet degeneration in my left eye."

As an alternative to less effective laser treatments, Russell’s doctors proposed an innovative solution - one that has been scientifically proven to stop vision from worsening. And encouragingly, in a percentage of patients, it’s even improved their vision. The treatment involves injecting molecular antibodies into the affected eye or eyes. It must be repeated as often as monthly. Russell wasn’t very keen on the idea of having injections, in fact he was terrified at first. But now he’s been having them for a good while and has grown accustomed to the procedure.

"I don’t like them, but they work well and I’m very happy to have them. I'm due to have my 100th injection in June 2024 and I intend to take cake in for the team!”

He credits the development of these drugs as the reason he’s succeeded in all he’s set out to do over the last 13 years. Russell and his wife have been keen yacht sailors in their 46 years of marriage. They sailed their yacht to the Caribbean and back in 2004/05 and now in their 70’s, they still spend a large amount of their time sailing between ports in the English Channel.

close-up of a man, Russell, steering a boat in a body of water

Russell enjoying a sail in open waters

Russell has also held an amateur radio licence (G4SAQ) since 1977. Over the last 12 years he has constructed radio equipment using ‘surface mounted technology’ (SMT). The components are in the size range 1 to 2mm and Russell uses a stereo microscope for this work. He uses some of his home-built equipment to send television communications through a satellite. 

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He has only been able to pursue his loves of sailing and radio communications due to the crucial sight-saving research treatments adopted by Southampton's Eye Unit and other institutions like it.

Treatments like these intraocular injections have actually led to rates of blindness from macular degeneration reducing over the last few years. That’s the first time in history. Russell says,

"Everybody has been hoping for some longer lasting treatment – maybe even a cure.”

Elderly couple wearing denim walking down hallway holding hands

This novel solution has certainly pushed us in the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go. A large part of that journey is to address the huge gap in funding. Even though there are 2.5 million people who live with sight loss in the UK, only 1.5% of government research funding goes to eye research. Studies also estimate that the number of people living with sight loss will increase by 40% by 2050. These devastating figures demonstrate the huge unmet need for research into treatments for sight loss to help people like Russell. He strongly believes that 

"Research and the funding of research is critical. It's got to happen.”

Unfortunately, Russell suffered a significant setback in June 2023 in the form of a ‘massive retinal bleed’ in his left eye. Surgeons at Southampton Eye Unit performed a successful operation just two days later. Russell has been able to continue all his activities and hobbies, despite significant vision loss in his left eye. 

"[I am] extremely grateful to the skilful surgeon and research that underpinned the procedure.”

Sight Research UK funds research at the cusp of breakthroughs right before clinical trials. We are the only UK charity to focus our efforts exclusively on fighting sight loss through the power of research, which is critical to turning scientific theories into real-life treatments. We want to ensure that Russell and others like him can lead happy and fulfilling lives through research happening now, as well as safeguard clear vision for generations to come.

Meet the researchers who make these treatments possible

As you read this, eye researchers like Dr Jian Liu (centre left) and PhD student Katie Cox (centre right), funded by Sight Research UK, are actively working on novel treatments and pathways to target macular degeneration. They have recently discovered the role of a key protein in our eyes and are testing a gene therapy treatment to prevent macular degeneration. "We want to contribute to the fight for people's quality of life."