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Queen’s Anniversary Prize awarded

27 February 2018

Dr Maggie Woodhouse at Buckingham Palace

Cardiff University’s world-leading Down’s Syndrome Vision Research Unit has been awarded the UK’s most prestigious academic award - the Queen’s Anniversary Prize.

Head of the Unit, Dr Maggie Woodhouse, picked up the award at a ceremony in Buckingham Palace. The prize is awarded every two years by the Queen in recognition of an academic or vocational institution, and falls within the UK’s national honours system.

Speaking of the award, Dr Maggie Woodhouse said: “We are extremely honoured by this recognition. It’s a reflection of the dedication and unique research of our staff who are all committed to tailoring and improving eye care for children with Down’s syndrome; It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to improve their learning and educational opportunities and give them the opportunity to thrive and reach their full potential.”

Children with Down's syndrome are at much greater risk of eye and vision disorders than typically developing children, need regular eye examinations, and are more likely to need glasses and compensation in the classroom for visual deficits. Before the establishment of the Down’s Syndrome Vision Research Unit, these specific visual problems were very poorly understood, misinterpreted and undiagnosed. As a result, the Unit was established in direct response to this neglected area of research and is now at the forefront of research in its field.

The Unit’s life-changing research discoveries, such as the process which corrects errors in typical infants fails in those with Down's syndrome, and the benefit of bifocals for their conditions, have directly underpinned national and international guidance on their vision care. The research has also informed training for optometrists and changed the way that those working with and educating young people with Down’s syndrome set up the learning environment.

Changes to sight tests, teaching methods and resources for children with Down's syndrome are just some of the life-changing impacts of the Unit’s work.

Image of Dr Maggie Woodhouse outside Buckingham Palace

Since 1992, the Unit has built the world’s only longitudinal cohort of young people with Down’s syndrome. Currently over 250 children and young adults from all over the UK take part in its studies, ranging from 1-25 years old. Each individual’s visual and general development has been monitored by the Unit over time, making this group and its data unique: it is the largest database of its kind in the world.

The Unit is also the only optometry teaching centre in the UK that directly includes a dedicated course in special needs optometry as part of the undergraduate curriculum.

Over the coming years, members of the Unit plan to turn their attention to implementing a special school eye care service in Wales, by providing training for the optometrists involved. They also aim – through collaborations with partners – to establish a similar service in the other three nations in the UK.

Carol Boys, Chief Executive, Down’s Syndrome Association, said: “I am delighted to hear the news that the Down’s Syndrome Vision Research Unit have been recognised with this award for their pioneering work. Maggie and her colleagues have made an enormous difference to the lives of countless people with Down’s syndrome, both personally, through their research and through their teaching programme as well.”

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