Macular Disease Foundation Australia has committed $2.8 million to world leading research into macular degeneration since 2011, funding Australian researchers to find better ways to reduce the incidence and impact of macular degeneration and ultimately find a cure.
On World Sight Day, 8 October 2015, Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove awarded the 2015 grants, valued at $1.3 million, to the following researchers at Admiralty House in Kirribilli, Sydney.
Professor Mark Gillies, Save Sight Institute, Sydney University
Awarded: Macular Disease Foundation Australia Research Grant for $400,000 over a 3 years.
Project title: How to get the best outcomes of treatment of neovascular age-related macular degeneration with vascular endothelial growth factor inhibitors: Real world evidence.
Project summary: This project is a continuation of the "Fight Retinal Blindness!" (FRB!) study, which has been running since 2007. This project involves a large web-based database tracking over 5000 patients being treated by over 50 ophthalmologists. More patients and clinicians are continually being added. The database provides a large repository of real world outcomes and enables testing of multiple clinical questions, comparing treatments and regimens for macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and other similar conditions.
The project will provide strong, real-world evidence on several key clinical questions, including whether there is any difference in duration of effect between treatments, the effects of reducing treatment frequency, and recommendations that can be made to patients regarding longer term prognosis.
About the researcher: Professor Gillies, MB BS, PhD, FRANZCO, is Professor in the Department of Clinical Ophthalmology, The University of Sydney, and Group Leader, Macular Research Group, Save Sight Institute. He has extensive experience in leading and collaborating in clinical and laboratory research projects. He is the leader of the Fight Retinal Blindness! Project, an international observational study tracking outcomes of treatment for macular disease.
Associate Professor Chi Luu, Centre for Eye Research Australia
Awarded: Macular Disease Foundation Australia Research Grant for $200,000 over a 3 years.
Project title: Static and dynamic retinal function topography in early stages of age-related macular degeneration.
Project summary: This study aims to validate a new instrument designed to detect people with high risk macular degeneration at a much earlier stage. If successful, this technology will enable clinical trials on new treatments to be conducted more quickly, which will potentially mean earlier availability of these treatments. The technology could also reduce the cost of clinical trials enabling more treatments to be studied.
About the researcher: Associate Professor Luu, B.Orth (Hons), PGDipEpidBiostat, PhD is a Principal Research Fellow at the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) in Melbourne. His research interest includes development and evaluation of novel approaches for detecting, monitoring and treating retinal degenerative conditions, particularly age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Since joining CERA in 2008, he has been active in AMD research and has published extensively in this area. His research into the structure-function relationship in AMD has significantly advanced the ability to monitor progression of disease and determine efficacy of new treatments.
Dr Gerald Liew, Centre for Vision Research, Westmead Millennium Institute, The University of Sydney
Awarded: Macular Disease Foundation Australia Research Grant for $100,000 over 1 year.
Project title: Deciphering the metabolomics signature of age-related macular degeneration to discover pathogenic pathways.
Project summary: This project is a pilot study to analyse the systemic metabolites which are altered as a result of macular degeneration. Metabolomics is a very new area of medical research involving analysis of large amounts of data from many patients to generate hypotheses about the disease process, which can then be tested. This study will investigate whether certain metabolites that result from the age-related macular degeneration disease process may enable the development of a simple blood test which could be used as an early marker for disease progression.
The project will involve collaboration with the Bioanalytic Mass Spectroscopy Facility at the University of New South Wales.
About the researcher: Dr Gerald Liew, MBBS (Hons), MMed (Hons), PhD, FRANZCO, is conducting research which includes clinical trials for treatments for retinal conditions, methods to improve diagnosis and monitoring of macular diseases, and investigating the genetic basis of retinal diseases such as macular degeneration. He has been awarded a Master of Medicine and a Doctorate from the University of Sydney and has published widely. He is a Clinical Senior Lecturer with the Westmead Clinical School.
Professor Steven Krilis, St George Hospital, UNSW Australia
Awarded: Macular Disease Foundation Australia Research Grant and Blackmores Macular Disease Foundation Australia Research Grant totaling $400,000 over a 3 years.
Project title: Novel mechanisms of complement control protein dysregulation contributing to age-related macular degeneration pathogenesis and progression: CFH and beta 2-Glycoprotein 1.
Project summary: This study will link environmental risk factors such as smoking and a high fat diet with specific molecular and immune system changes that are involved with disease development. This work may help to explain why previous attempts to develop treatments aimed at a malfunctioning complement immune system have proven to be ineffective. The project has the potential to identify a new blood test to detect people at high risk of progression, and test a new antibody treatment targeted at the early stages of disease.
About the researcher: Professor Krilis, MB BS UNSW, PhD Syd, FRACP, is Director of the Department of Infectious Disease, Immunology and Sexual Health (Consultant in Immunology and Infectious Disease), Conjoint Professor UNSW Australia, St George Hospital. He is a highly productive researcher with over 30 years experience in the investigation of mechanisms contributing to inflammation, including the links between oxidation and complement control proteins. In the last five years this work has been directed to these proteins in relation to their impact on age-related macular degeneration.
Dr Isabelle Jalbert, UNSW Australia School of Optometry and Vision Science
Awarded: Blackmores Macular Disease Foundation Australia Research Grant for $100,000 over 2 years.
Project title: Eye care practitioners' and patients' perspectives on age-related macular degeneration (AMD) - identifying barriers and facilitators to optimal AMD care.
Project summary: Modifiable factors such as smoking and lifestyle (e.g. high glycemic index diet or low intake of antioxidants) have been shown to increase the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and the speed at which the disease progresses. Based on these, clear, evidence-based recommendations for people with or at risk of AMD have existed for some time. Yet, self-reported practices suggest that eye care practitioners' advice and adherence to these recommendations in people with AMD can be very poor.
The project proposes to explore the views, knowledge, attitudes and practices of eye care practitioners and people with AMD and their carers.
This project will identify the barriers and facilitators for optimal care as well as knowledge and understanding about various issues including diet, supplementation and lifestyle modifications. This project will identify areas where targeted health interventions should be planned in the future.
About the researcher: Dr Jalbert, OD, MPH, PhD, is Deputy Head of the UNSW Australia School of Optometry and Vision Science, the largest optometry school in Australia. She is internationally recognised as an expert in research into evidence based optometry practice, with a strong record of leading multidisciplinary research.
Dr Laura Downie, Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences, The University of Melbourne
Awarded: Blackmores Macular Disease Foundation Australia Research Grant for $100,000 over 3 years.
Project title: Advancing eye care for people with age-related macular degeneration through integrating clinical research and its translation.
Project summary: To improve age-related macular degeneration (AMD) patient outcomes and reduce the substantial burden that this condition has both on individuals and the community necessitates an interdisciplinary approach combining the creation of new research evidence with its implementation into practice.
Using a multi-dimensional approach, this project integrates cutting-edge clinical AMD research with a national research translation program to advance the quality of eye care for Australians with AMD.
This will involve the development of a novel optometric clinical audit tool for optometrists and a standardised education program based on best practice to provide more consistent level of early diagnosis, improved referrals and guidance from optometrists to patients and their families.
About the researcher: Dr Downie, BOptom, PhD, FAAO, is an optometrist and clinician scientist / lecturer at The University of Melbourne. She has established an international reputation as a leading clinical researcher with a strong research record supporting evidence-based practice. She was awarded an NHMRC Translating Research into Practice (TRIP) Fellowship in 2015, and received the Irvin M Borish Award from the American Academy of Optometry in 2014, being an international award that recognises an outstanding young clinician scientist.
8 October 2015