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West Midlands Freemasons help fund sight loss research at University College London

Stafford Macular Support Group member Giuseppe D’Anna was keen to support the cause.

Mr Kevin Spencer, Deputy Provincial Grand Master, Staffordshire and Shropshire Mark Master Masons, and Mr Francis McMorrow, Worshipful Master Albric Festival Lodge. Pic: Paul Milgate-Scarrott

A Stafford sight loss support group has joined forces with local Freemasons to fund stem cell research at University College London.

Giuseppe D’Anna, a member of the Stafford Macular Support Group, has been involved with Freemasonry for 25 years.

Having lost sight in one eye and suffering from dry macular degeneration in the remaining, Giuseppe focused his fundraising efforts to support research into reversing and curing the condition.

Macular disease is the most frequent cause of sight loss in the UK, with around 300 people diagnosed daily and numbers set to double in the next 20 years.

The Stafford Support Group offers practical and emotional support for people with macular disease and welcomes anyone with diminishing sight problems.

Founded in 1977, the Macular Society helps people adapt to life with varying degrees of sight loss, regain their confidence and independence, and take back control of their lives.

Last year, the Macular Society launched the first Groups Research Appeal, raising £36,933. This year, the plan was to support a new research project at University College London, led by Professor Jane Sowden.

The project is a three-year study costing £100,000 on tissue engineering using stem cell-derived photoreceptors for macular repair.

Macular disease leads to the death of the macula eye cells and loss of central vision. Stem cell therapy can offer the potential to replace dead cells in the macular to reverse sight loss.

However, once transplanted into the eyes, these photoreceptors have difficulty forming connections to their neighbouring cells.

Without these connections, the brain does not receive the information that creates the images that make up our vision. The study aims to try and engineer these photoreceptors to understand how to create new strong connections, called synapses.

By better understanding how to encourage connection growth, the researchers hope this will allow for more successful stem cell transplants, allowing restored vision for people with macular disease.

The Stafford Support Group raised some funds for the research, but the pandemic led to less funding than anticipated.

However, Giuseppe reached out to his fellow Masons and their families for help, and they contributed £4,675.01.

The funds donated to the Macular Society were raised through The Albric Festival Lodge No. 9576, Uxacona Lodge No. 5724 in Shropshire, Victoria Lodge No. 2848 in Staffordshire, and the Staffordshire and Shropshire Mark Benevolent Association (SSMBA).

The Stafford Support Group meets on the second Wednesday of each month from 10am to 12 noon in the Community Room at Asda Stores, Queensway, Stafford, ST16 3TA.