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Prof Michael O’Keefe, Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon at the Mater Private Hospital and Beacon Hospital in Dublin, one of Ireland’s leading specialists in treating the condition, said the development of intravitreal chemotherapy is “one of the great breakthroughs for retinoblastoma”.
“For the last eight years I was transferring many of these kids to Switzerland for this treatment… You can target the treatment of the tumour, you can get the chemo right into it, and this has made a huge difference to the management of retinoblastoma. It will mean less of these eyes being enucleated.”
He said the results for the Irish children sent to Switzerland for intravitreal chemotherapy to date “have been spectacularly good”.
Ireland does not provide this treatment currently, but Prof O’Keefe said given the small number of affected patients here and the costly physical infrastructure and expertise that would be required to set up such a service, sending children abroad is the best option. Patients can avail of the HSE’s Treatment Abroad Scheme to fund the treatment in Switzerland, and businessman Mr Denis O’Brien has helped fund additional costs for the children’s families travelling to Switzerland, Prof O’Keefe told MI.
Prof O’Keefe was speaking to MI following the 16th International Paediatric Ophthalmology Meeting, which took place in Croke Park on 18 and 19 October.
One of the pioneers of intravitreal chemotherapy for the treatment of retinoblastoma, Prof Francis Munier, who is the head of the unit in Switzerland where Prof O’Keefe referred patients to, spoke at the meeting.
Other topics covered this year included newer ways to treat retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), advances in the management of congenital cataracts, treatment of childhood uveitis, and imaging in paediatric eye disease. It was Prof O’Keefe’s last year as organiser of the prestigious meeting.
Prof O’Keefe has retired from his public posts at the Mater Hospital Dublin and University Children’s Hospital, Temple Street, but continues to provide paediatric ophthalmic services for the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, and the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street. He specialises in treating ROP in neonates using mobile laser units, with babies referred from all over the country, treating about 30 of these babies a year.
“The big new area that has opened up there is 23 weeks’ gestation, 500g babies who are now surviving and doing really well and the idea is not to let them go blind… newer and earlier treatments [for ROP] are coming in too,” he told MI.
Later this month, Prof O’Keefe will deliver the prestigious Irish College of Ophthalmologists Montgomery Lecture in Dublin.