About this event

  • Date and time Mon 13 May 2024 from 6:00pm to 8:15pm
  • Location Royal Society of Medicine
  • Organised by Public Engagement Programme, The Howard Foundation

Join us for the 2024 Howard Foundation Lecture, focusing on age-related macular degeneration and dementia. The lecture will be delivered by Professor John Nolan, Director of the Nutrition Research Centre Ireland, who will describe how research has identified a common factor in the causes of these diseases and how clinical trials have shown substantial improvements in both visual function and in memory and brain function.

In this lecture, Professor Nolan will explain how targeted nutritional supplementation of the eye and brain offers a safe and effective management option for AMD and Alzheimer’s disease. Moreover, this lecture will underline the need for early intervention using these nutritional formulations, to enhance the health and quality of life of the general population, while preventing the onset of these life-destroying age-related diseases of the eye and brain.

Following the lecture, you are invited to join us for a reception to network, relax, and enjoy a refreshing drink in the RSMs iconic glass atrium.   

AMD is a multifactorial disease of the retina characterised by a spectrum of degenerative changes at the macula, ultimately leading to central vision impairment. Alzheimer’s disease is also a complex multifactorial neurodegenerative disease resulting in abnormalities in cognition, behaviour and day-to-day function. Given the growing and ageing world population, the number of people living with AMD and Alzheimer’s disease continues to rise worldwide. The aetiopathogenesis of these conditions involves oxidative-stress-induced inflammation at the retina and brain, respectively.  

Carotenoids are a group of over 700 naturally occurring nutritional pigments, synthesised by plants, algae, and photosynthetic bacteria. Humans consume circa 50 carotenoids from diet, and only 20 have been identified in the human body (in blood, and fatty tissues and organs, e.g. retina and brain). 

Exponential increases in the prevalence of AMD and Alzheimer’s disease, combined with limited treatment options for both conditions, are driving the need for interventions to ameliorate symptoms and improve the quality of life in patients living with these conditions.  

By attending, you will:

  • Appreciate the extent of AMD and dementia across the UK, their consequences and costs
  • Gain an overview of the nature of carotenoids, their sources in nature and foods for humans and their biological role
  • Understand variation in the distribution of carotenoids and focus on their role in the eye and brain
  • Learn about the experimental evidence for supplementation with carotenoids in macular disease and dementia, the need for further work and next steps in translation into practice
  • Identify the problems with early detection tools: contrast sensitivity and early dementia screening

The RSM would like to thank The Howard Foundation for their support of this event. 

Dr Alan Howard (1929-2020)

Born in Norwich in 1929, Alan Howard won a scholarship to Downing College Cambridge in 1948, gaining his MA and PhD in 1955. He spent over 70 years connected with Downing as a student, researcher, teacher, and benefactor. 

Dr Howard became a leading scientist in the fields of atherosclerosis, obesity and, latterly, nutrition. He published extensively, was a writer and editor of books and journals, and organiser of international conferences. 

He is most widely known as the inventor of a very low-calorie diet, known as the Cambridge Diet; the result of many years of research and clinical trials in the 1960s and 1970s. This became a patented formula that sold widely in America and Europe in the 1980s and continues to flourish today through the company he founded, now known as the 1:1 diet by Cambridge Weightplan. 

For the final 20 years of his life, Dr Howard led research into the role of macular carotenoids on vision and memory, latterly working with the Waterford Institute of Technology in Ireland, which is now the Nutrition Research Centre Ireland (NRCI) within the South East Technological University (SETU).

In 1982 he created an English charitable trust, the Howard Foundation, which has supported an annual lecture at the Royal Society of Medicine and numerous scientific research projects. The Foundation has also donated generously to Downing College, enabling the construction of three buildings including a magnificent neoclassical theatre. His son Jon, and daughter Julie, lawyer and dietitian respectively, continue to run the Howard Foundation alongside two other Trustees. 

Dr Howard died aged 91 in June 2020. His legacy continues with both the work of the Howard Foundation and BON, the Brain and Optical Nutrition network of scientists.  

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Key speakers

Professor John Nolan

Professor John Nolan

Howard Chair in Human Nutrition, South East Technological University, Ireland, Director, Nutrition Research Centre, Ireland, Fulbright Scholar, European Research Council (ERC) Fellow

Speaker's biography

Professor John Nolan has dedicated his career to understanding the impact of nutrition on eye and brain health. Hailing from Carrick-on-Suir, Ireland, his journey began with a science degree at Waterford Institute of Technology, followed by a PhD and a Fulbright Scholarship at the Medical College of Georgia.


Returning to Ireland, Professor Nolan established the Macular Pigment Research Group, spending 18 years unlocking the secrets of nutritional pigments for eye health. His ground-breaking work led to the discovery that meso-zeaxanthin, combined with lutein and zeaxanthin, could enhance vision and potentially offer protection against AMD, a leading cause of blindness. This crucial finding was further solidified by the Central Retinal Enrichment Supplementation Trials (CREST), funded by the prestigious European Research Council Starting Grant.


Driven by a desire to expand his impact, Professor Nolan founded the Nutrition Research Centre Ireland, in 2016. This multidisciplinary team delves into the link between nutrition, lifestyle, and human well-being, currently focusing on identifying key nutrients for cognitive function and brain health. Their ultimate goal? Reducing the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Nigel Davies

Mr Nigel Davies

Consultant Ophthalmologist, Guys and St Thomas' Hospital

Speaker's biography

Nigel works as an ophthalmologist at St Thomas’ Hospital with a subspecialist interest in medical retina. His PhD at Imperial College London investigated visual function in patients with diabetes mellitus and part of this involved measuring the macular pigment density in patients with diabetes can comparing this with a normal group. Prior to studying medicine he completed a Physics degree, with Optics and Laser physics and he is currently studying for a degree in Astronomy and Cosmology in his spare time.  

Dr Gordon Plant

Consultant Neurologist, National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Moorfields Eye Hospital

Riona Mulcahy

Professor Riona Mulcahy

Consultant Geriatrician, Physician, Clinical Director, University Hospital Waterford

Speaker's biography

Professor Mulcahy is a Consultant Physician in General and Geriatric Medicine at University Hospital Waterford. She is also Clinical Director in UHW and Undergraduate Dean at the Royal College of Surgeons, Ireland. Her areas of specialist interests include neurodegenerative disorders: Dementia, Stroke and Parkinson's disease. She is a senior primary investigator for the Nutrition Research centre of lreland (NRCI) and a visiting Professor in South East Technological University (SETU).


She works in collaboration with NRCI looking at the role of nutrition specifically carotenoids and omega 3 fish oils in Dementia and Age related Macular Degeneration and has extensively published in the field. She was a founding member of the international Brain and Ocular nutrition (BON) conference, and current member of its committee. Further current research includes investigating the link between nutrition (specifically carotenoids and fish oils) and idiopathic Parkinson's disease.

Professor Mulcahy chairs the National Clinical Programme for Stroke and is a member of the Stroke Clinical Trials Network Ireland (SCTNI). She has collaborated on many National and international stroke research projects including CONVINCE (Colchicine for prevention of vascular inflammation in Non-Cardio Embolic stroke and ELAN (Early versus Late initiation of direct oral Anticoagulants in post-ischaemic stroke patients with atrial fibrillation).


View the programme

Registration, tea and coffee
Welcome and introduction

Professor Roger Kirby, President, Royal Society of Medicine

Connecting carotenoids from eye to brain: A new vision for management of age-related macular degeneration and dementia

Professor John Nolan, Director, Nutrition Research Centre, Ireland, Fulbright Scholar, European Research Council (ERC) Fellow

Panel discussion

Chair: Professor Roger Kirby

Panel: Mr Nigel Davies, Consultant Ophthalmologist, Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital, Dr Gordon Plant, Consultant Neurologist, National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Moorfields Eye Hospital, Professor Riona Mulcahy, Consultant Geriatrician, Physician, Clinical Director, University Hospital Waterford

Vote of thanks

Professor Roger Kirby

Close of meeting
Drinks reception

All welcome


Royal Society of Medicine, 1 Wimpole St, Marylebone, London, W1G 0AE, United Kingdom

Registration for this event will close on 12 May at 1:00am (BST). Late registrations will not be accepted.

The agenda is subject to change at any time.

All views expressed at this event are of the speakers themselves and not of the Royal Society of Medicine, nor the speaker's organisations.

We are only able to share presentations that we have received permission to share. This is at the presenter and the RSM’s discretion.

This event will be recorded and stored by the Royal Society of Medicine and may be distributed in future on various internet channels.