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News, Lenses, Tech

Sudden death of Brien Holden

29/07/2015
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Professor Brien Holden, head of the eponymous Brien Holden Vision Institute, died suddenly on 27 July, aged 73 years.

His contributions extend across research, education, public health and social enterprise, however his ambitious claim in 2003 that myopia would be "cured within three years" has not come to fruition.

He was awarded: an Order of Australia Medal for his work in eye health and vision science; the Schwab Social Entrepreneur Award for Africa 2010 at the regional World Economic Forum; and seven honorary doctorates from universities Africa, Australia, Canada, Europe and the US.

His contributions have been acknowledged through other national and international awards and honours, such as in 2010 the renaming of the Institute for Eye Research to the BHVI.

Following the completion of the optometry course at Melbourne University in 1964, he embarked on an impactful journey by boat to the United Kingdom with his new wife. After completing his PhD in corneal and contact lens research at the City University London in 1971, he returned to Australia to take up a position as lecturer at the University of New South Wales. This proved to be an incredibly fertile research and educational environment in the early 1970s.

It was there that a group led by him began to quickly develop expertise in soft contact lenses - a new modality for vision correction. His influence was not only felt in contact lens studies and research, but also in teaching diagnostic drugs. His UK qualifications enabled him to be both the first person to be registered in optometry to use diagnostic drugs and the first teacher of the subject for optometrists in Australia.

In 1973, he and several postgraduate students began research to determine what was needed in contact lenses to maintain eye health.

The Cornea and Contact Lens Research Unit was established by him in 1976 to develop the specialty within what was then known as the School of Optometry at UNSW (it later became the School of Optometry and Vision Science). The CCLRU went on to make significant contributions to the world of contact.

The CCLRU quickly grew, along with its reputation, attracting industry interest and funding. By the end of the 1970s its staff included optometrists, biologists, physiologists, biochemists, microbiologists and biostatisticians. It began to develop a postgraduate research programme as well as expertise in continuing education, delivering contact lens education to thousands of practitioners and educators throughout Asia.

GLAUKOS
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The success of the CCLRU spurred him onto further challenges, as he and colleagues saw the need for an independent, but university-affiliated, Australian institute to promote and develop eye research and education.

In 1985, he and colleagues established the Institute for Eye Research, which later became the BHVI.

When the Australian Government established the Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) Program in 1991, he saw an opportunity to create new breakthroughs through the relationships between research and industry that the program promoted. The Cooperative Research Centre for Eye Research and Technology was established in 1991.

CRCERT received grants of $37 million over 13 years and provided the basis from which the Vision CRC was established in 2003 and a Vision CRC extension granted in 2009 - a total of $85 million in CRC funding over 25 years. That level of government support attracted over $800 million in industry and partner investment in the CRCs.

A team of Australian researchers also developed an innovative new spectacle lens to help address the explosion in the number of people with myopia worldwide.

The myopia work was done in collaboration with the University of Houston School of Optometry and industry partners through Vision CRC. However its results have been less than expected, despite the claim in 2003 that myopia would be cured within three years.

Brien Holden was also involved in the establishment of the International Association of Contact Lens Educators (IACLE), which developed educational infrastructure and resources specifically targeting hundreds of contact lens educators throughout the world.

The BHVI has trained more than 150 PhD and MSc students and currently supports over 40 postgraduate researchers.

With colleagues Brian Layland, David Pye, Debbie Sweeney and Frank Back he established VisionCare NSW in 1992 to manage the NSW Government Spectacle Program, which delivered subsidised eye care to those in need, including supplying over one million pairs of spectacles to financially-disadvantaged people in NSW. The service has now been taken over by Vision Australia.

George & Matilda Eyecare
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