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Charity donates $160K for inherited retinal disease research

Retina Australia has awarded a total of $160,000 in study grants to some of the biggest names in Australian retinal research.

The 2021 recipients are Dr Lauren Ayton from The University of Melbourne, Professor Alex Hewitt from The University of Tasmania, Dr Fred Chen from The University of Western Australia, Associate Professor Heather Mack from the Centre for Eye Research Australia and The University of Melbourne, and Dr Jennifer Thompson from Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.

An Australian volunteer-led charity, Retina Australia funds world-leading research into treatments and cures for blindness caused by inherited retinal disease (IRD) and cares for people and families through peer-to-peer support services.

It has invested more than $5.5 million in more than 40 research projects since 1983.

Ayton will use the funds to advance her project that aims to use invasive (including bionic eye and gene therapy) and non-invasive (low vision aid and sensory substitution) technologies to improve new sensory substitution devices for people with low vision.

Dr Lauren Ayton from The University of Melbourne.

Meanwhile, Hewitt is working with gene-editing technology to evaluate its feasibility in correcting various pathogenic conditions as a clinic-ready solution.

He notes the infancy of gene-editing technology is not without its limitations, and concerns remain over their effectiveness, feasibility and side-effects.

in WA, Chen is looking for disease-causing mutations in families with dominant retinitis pigmentosa (RP) pedigrees – a group of rare, genetic disorders that involve a breakdown and loss of cells in the retina.

Dr Fred Chen from The University of Western Australia and Lions Eye Institute.

His team is developing a novel therapeutic to treat a type of RP caused by mutations in the PRPF3 I gene but a larger pool of patients fulfilling the eligibility criteria is required for an Australia-wide Phase 1 and 2 clinical trial.

Immediate past president of RANZCO, Mack, is investigating potential participant perspectives on ocular gene therapy in Australia. She’s building on previous studies that have shown individuals who might participate in gene therapy clinical trials overestimate clinical effect, and underestimate risks.

Associate Professor Heather Mack from the Centre for Eye Research Australia and The University of Melbourne.

At Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth, Thompson wants to extend the medical field’s knowledge of the causes of IRDs in Australia.

She is proposing a mechanism to provide genetic research reports to research participants via their nominated ophthalmologists or clinical geneticists. She hopes providing such information to participants’ clinicians may significantly improve patient management.

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