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CERA projects secure $1.5 million in new funding

03/07/2019By Myles Hume
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Almost $1.5 million in new philanthropic funding will advance research into macular disease progression, Alzheimer’s disease and keratoconus at the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA).

Fellows Dr Zhichao Wu and Dr Srujana Sahebjada, as well as CERA deputy director Associate Professor Peter van Wijngaarden, each recently received grants totaling almost $360,000 as part of the coveted Perpetual 2019 IMPACT Philanthropy Application Program.

For Wu and van Wijngaarden it comes on top of more than $1.1 million in major research grants for their respective projects in recent months.

For his research into Alzheimer’s disease, van Wijngaarden received $100,000 from financial services company Perpetual’s grant program. In May he also secured more than $600,000 from the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation and $250,000 from the National Foundation for Medical Research and Innovation for the project.

Peter van Wijngaarden
Peter van Wijngaarden
“Current tests for Alzheimer’s disease are expensive and invasive. Not only are they out of the financial reach of most health care systems, their cost and limited availability make the testing of new treatments much more difficult”
Peter van Wijngaarden, CERA

The total funding will help his team develop a simple eye test to detect early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, and enable the participation in a world-first trial of eye scans based on imaging technology similar to that used in NASA satellites.

The research will focus on the deposition of a protein in the brain, known as amyloid beta, which is a characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. Recent research indicates that it accumulates in the retina.

Using specialised colour imaging cameras developed at CERA, van Wijngaarden’s research will measure the amyloid beta in the retina. This could potentially lead to a diagnosis many years before symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease appear.

“Current tests for Alzheimer’s disease are expensive and invasive. Not only are they out of the financial reach of most health care systems, their cost and limited availability make the testing of new treatments much more difficult, slowing down the pace of discovery,” van Wijngaarden said.

Wu’s project received $134,000 in funding from Perpetual, which comes in addition to a $268,000 grant from the US-based BrightFocus Foundation. Both sets of funding will help spur the development of a new technique for determining the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Based on previous research, Wu’s new technique will measure how well people can perceive light at precise locations inside the eye guided by retinal images.

This method will enable highly targeted testing of the earliest signs of the disease, or comprehensive mapping of macular function in those further advanced with the condition. It is hoped this will speed up the process of discovering potential therapies.

Meanwhile, $124,000 in funding will help Sahebjada advance her research into a new technique to examine the corneas of people with keratoconus in order to better understand the genetic cause of the condition. This study will provide crucial insights into keratoconus and hopefully reduce the need for corneal transplants.

 

More reading:

Australian AI screening trial looks to improve eye health inequality
New eye research receives $150,000 funding
New director commences at Centre for Eye Research Australia
Carl Zeiss
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