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Eye researchers big winners under new grants

22/08/2018By Matthew Woodley
Seven Australian researchers have received National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) grants to investigate a variety of ophthalmic diseases and conditions.

Glaucoma researchers were the main beneficiaries, with five of the seven projects focusing at least in part on the disease. QIMR Berghofer Associate Professor Stuart MacGregor and Associate Professor Alice Pébay from the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) and University of Melbourne attracted the most funding – $649,175 each.

MacGregor’s research will focus on translating the genetic determinants of glaucoma, expanding knowledge on the genes responsible for the disease and developing an evidence base for incorporating genetic testing into clinical practice.


“Our research will help identify new drugs to treat these diseases and develop family-screening strategies to find undiagnosed cases of glaucoma before it affects sight.”
David Mackey, UWA

Pébay aims to use stem cells taken from patients to generate glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration models, as well as models for brain disease such as Alzheimer’s, to uncover how they develop and search for new treatments.

University of Western Australia’s chair of ophthalmology, Professor David Mackey, will also use his $585,270 grant to try and discover new genes responsible for glaucoma and myopia.

“Our research will help identify new drugs to treat these diseases and develop family-screening strategies to find undiagnosed cases of glaucoma before it affects sight,” he said.

“This will allow early intervention. In addition, I will assess new technologies to help those already visually impaired.”

Meanwhile, Flinders University’s Professor Jamie Craig will build on prior research that established a registry of people with glaucoma blindness to define risk factors associated with poor visual outcomes, in a prospective longitudinal study aimed at predicting if it's possible to determine whether individuals suspected of having glaucoma will progress to manifest vision loss.

CERA's Mr Josh Foreman has secured $417,192 to implement and evaluate a technology-based blindness prevention program for underserved populations that will provide early diagnosis to reduce rates of blindness from diabetic retinopathy.

Other projects, spearheaded by Macquarie University’s Dr Sidong Liu and the University of Adelaide’s Dr Michelle Sun, will focus on tracking glaucoma progression with deep learning algorithms and bioengineering for the eye, respectively.

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Overall, the $3,484,308 awarded accounted for 1.85% of the total $188.2 million allocated in the most recent round, nearly double the average funding rate for ophthalmic research grants awarded over the past 10 years.

IMAGE TOP: Alice Pébay received nearly $650,000 to further her research. Courtesy: the Centre for Eye Research Australia

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