Research into eyes and eyesight in Aotearoa-New Zealand needs to be visionary.
Which is why the new Vision Research Foundation (VRF) has been established – to move beyond the safe and incremental, to attract the funding and knowledge needed to make life-changing discoveries, and to unlock the potential medical talent shut out by inequity.
Professor Helen Danesh-Meyer (pictured below) founded the Foundation as a charitable trust in 2022 and is now its Scientific Director.
It was established with the support of a generous philanthropist and has since started to attract direct donations and bequests. Now the VRF has set up a philanthropic investment fund at Momentum Waikato, which is open for public donations from anywhere.
“We are at a time when technology is developing faster than most research ideas,” says Helen.
“The Vision Research Foundation is therefore aimed at using those rapidly developing technological advances to disrupt traditional modes of eye care and research.
“Our philosophy is that by challenging established paradigms we can make transformative discoveries in vision science.
“We are driving a collaborative, multi-disciplinary network of researchers who are committed to translational and impactful research. The emphasis is on building a strong and dynamic vision research environment.”
Good vision and eye health are precious. Our eyes connect us to the world and are a window into the health of our brain and entire body.
Helen says we will all be directly impacted by vision-related disorders or the threat of blindness at some stage of our lives, whether for ourselves or our family and friends. And we will all face neurological and degenerative conditions as we age.
“Our journey through these challenges is being much improved by transformative medical discoveries that directly influence the course of our well-being.
“The Vision Research Foundation therefore has a laser-sharp focus on three goals. First, to support young researchers and keep bright minds in New Zealand.
“Second, we back research that challenges current thinking and paradigms, in particular in the areas of glaucoma and neurological diseases. This is necessary because most existing health funding organisations only want to support safe incremental research.
“Third, we are committed to developing the entire research environment, which means building diverse research teams, addressing research culture, and supporting the next generation,” says Helen.
Vision Research Foundation grants go to scholarships and clinical and social research, which to date has included the relationship between Alzheimer’s and Glaucoma, preservative toxicity in Glaucoma eyedrops, optic nerve diseases in children, and identifying and removing barriers to wahine Maaori becoming surgeons.
New Zealand researchers are significantly underfunded per capita compared to Australia, UK, Canada and the US, with less than eight per cent of all research grant applications to the existing bodies here being funded.
To address this shortfall, the Vision Research Foundation is already off to a great start in attracting direct donations via their own connections.
Now, to make it easier for the public to support their work, and to diversify their income streams, they have sent up a dedicated fund at Momentum Waikato, the region’s community foundation.
Although it is based in the Waikato, the Vision Research Foundation Fund at Momentum invites donations from anyone anywhere, as the VRF supports eye and health research wherever it is happening in New Zealand. Donations are invested as part of Momentum’s endowment fund and the resulting income goes back to the VRF for use in its grant scheme.
Momentum Waikato Chief Executive Kelvyn Eglinton says it is an honour to be hosting the VRF Fund, given its national focus.
“The initiative and determination of Professor Danesh-Meyer and the Vision Research Foundation is quite humbling,” says Kelvyn.
“We’re pleased to be playing small part in securing their critical mission, which will certainly have transformational benefits impacts for the wellbeing of New Zealanders and people everywhere.”