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Vision researcher takes out Victorian science award

Dr Lauren Ayton, senior research fellow, Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences, Department of Surgery (Ophthalmology), The University of Melbourne, has been announced as the Victorian Young Tall Poppy of the Year by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS).

Ayton was recognised for her work on early disease biomarkers in retinal disease and vision restoration at a ceremony in October. Her work is directed towards early disease biomarkers in retinal conditions, as well as vision restoration. She is currently examining genetic interventions for people with vision loss, as well as how this can improve mobility and quality of life among patients.

She is also a University of Melbourne Driving Research Momentum Fellow and a NHMRC Medical Research Future Fund Next Generation Clinical Research Fellow.

Ayton told Insight that receiving the award, considering the calibre of the nominees, is an honour.

“The really exciting thing with the award for me is that it recognises your academic work, as well as your community engagement and science communication.

“That’s something I’m really passionate about, I’m very excited by the research I do, and I really love sharing it with other people.”

Her outreach work includes co-hosting the radio shows Einstein A Go-Go on 3RRR and Conversation Hour on ABC Radio.

Ayton recently returned to Melbourne after working as director of clinical and regulatory affairs at the Bionic Eye Technologies program in New York, a continuation of her previous work in Melbourne on bionic eye technology.

She said coming back to Melbourne has been a welcome change. “There are a lot of different projects happening and a lot of different collaborations. And there is also lots of engagement with patients, patient groups, and support agencies. It’s definitely been nice coming back to that and remembering why Melbourne does this so well.”

As part of the award, Ayton will undertake outreach work to promote science throughout high schools in Victoria.

The Young Tall Poppy Science Awards are designed to recognise early-career researchers who also actively promote interest in science among school students, teachers and the broader community.

Ayton is not the only ophthalmic professional recognised in this year’s Young Tall Poppies awards. In September, Australian National University researcher Dr Riccardo Natoli was announced as an ACT Young Tall Poppy for his work developing a blood test capable of detecting a patient’s risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

In addition to his research, Natoli participates in public outreach through Retina Australia, The Canberra Blind Society and his Clear Vision Research initiative.

IMAGE CAPTION: (From left): AIPS board member Dr Sarah Meacham, Dr Lauren Ayton, and Burnet Institute senior principal research fellow Professor Mark Hogarth.