Churchill Fellowship will be used to study inherited retinal diseases

The fellowship has been awarded to the managing director of the Lions Eye Institute in Western Australia, Professor David Mackey.
Professor Mackey, one of the world’s leading genetic ophthalmologists, said while each of the IRDs are relatively rare, collectively they are a serious burden, particularly in working-age adults.
“For a significant number of young Australians with severe blinding diseases, there is currently no treatment,” he said.
“Leading international science is beginning to conduct treatment trials for IRDs but these are not accessible to Australians due to cost of setting up an Australian arm of a study, and our small population compared with Europe and the United States.
“My Churchill Fellowship will focus on developing a nationwide approach to international collaborations so young Australians can participate in the trials in which these treatments are being tested.”
Professor Mackey will travel to Oxford University, University College London and Kings College London in the United Kingdom next year to examine how trials into novel IRD treatments are progressing and how Australians could gain access.
He will focus on:
– How participants for eye gene therapy trials are recruited in the UK;
– What travel and follow-up arrangents are required for participants;
– What pre- and post-operative testing can be done near the patient’s local clinic; and
– Whether parallel trials can be run in Australia.
Professor Mackey said the results of the first trials into IRDs were published in 2008 but no Australians had been able to participate in the trials.
“In Western Australia there has been a gene therapy trial run at the LEI for age-related macular degeneration, which shows we have the capacity to do this work. The huge costs in running such trials make it unlikely that trials for many other diseases – especially rare diseases – will be funded in Australia,” he said.
“Our best hope is to develop a coordinated effort to find all eligible Australians with IRDs and attach th to an international trial.
“Ultimately, I want to create a national treatment network that would allow patients to be monitored near their homes.”
Professor Mackey was one of 109 Australians awarded a 2015 Churchill Fellowship.
“It was particularly touching for me to be awarded the Kevin Bell Churchill Fellowship,” he said. “I met Kevin when he was a medical photographer at the Royal Hobart Hospital and later at the Tasmanian Lions Diagnostic Eye Clinic.
“I first heard of the Churchill Fellowship sche when Kevin was awarded a fellowship in 1979. Kevin’s fellowship was to study fluorescein angiography in the UK, Germany and USA. My fellowship 35 years later builds on from diagnostic imaging of IRDs to potential treatments.”
Churchill Fellowships allow talented Australians to engage globally and bring innovative ideas and solutions back to the nation.

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