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MDFA releases $600,000 in new grants to tackle macular disease

The Macular Disease Foundation Australia (MDFA) has awarded $600,000 in new research grants to advance research into Indigenous diabetic vision loss, sub-retinal fibrosis and novel disease detection methods.

Biomedical scientist Dr Audra Shadforth, optometrist and clinical researcher Mr Zhichao Wu and Aboriginal doctor and researcher Professor Alex Brown were the latest recipients of the MDFA’s Research Grants Program, announced on World Sight Day last Thursday.

The trio were recognised at an event hosted by Governor General Mr David Hurley and his wife at their Sydney residence, Admiralty House. The MDFA program has now contributed $4.2 million to research since its launch in 2011.

“We are excited to be investing in three very different and equally important projects – all of which are making valuable contributions to tackling macular disease,” said MDFA CEO Dee Hopkins, who also attended the ceremony.

Shadforth, a lecturer in the School of Environment and Science at Griffith University and a visiting research fellow in the Ocular Cell Therapies Research Program at the Queensland Eye Institute, will use the funding to further her investigations into scar-less wound healing in age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

For the past decade, her research has focused on evaluating biomaterials for ocular tissue reconstruction, and the preliminary development of a cell-based therapy for AMD. She is currently working to characterise important mechanisms of wound healing in the choroidal vasculature, and the refinement of three-dimensional culture techniques to allow study of this in the laboratory.

Wu, from the Centre for Eye Research Australia and Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Melbourne, will progress his study into novel prognostic imaging biomarkers for improved risk stratification in the early stages of AMD.

His research aims to investigate better methods for detecting and monitoring AMD using optical coherence tomography and artificial intelligence. The study will obtain imaging from 200 participants with intermediate AMD, which will inform clinical practice.

This year the MDFA has also prioritised Indigenous eye health. Currently, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities suffer diabetic vision loss at five times the rate of other Australians. “So it’s vital that we investigate the science, impact and mitigation of inequity and disadvantage,” Hopkins said.

In a project called Defining the Risk and Epidemiology of Aboriginal Australian Macular Disease, Brown’s research will advance understanding of the underlying social, psychological, environmental, behavioural, clinical, biological and metabolomic risk factors of diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular oedema among Aboriginal people.

In addition to his roles as deputy director and Aboriginal health equity theme leader for the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, Brown is also a Professor of Medicine within the Aboriginal Health unit at the University of Adelaide. He has one of the strongest track records in Indigenous health research and has established an extensive and unique research program focused on chronic disease in vulnerable communities.

Image: (Front row – left to right) MDFA chairman Robert Kaye with Dr Audra Shadforth, Governor-General Mr David Hurley, his wife Mrs Linda Hurley, MDFA CEO Ms Dee Hopkins, (back row – left to right) Professor Alex Brown and Dr Zhichao Wu.