An eye for the genetic causes of disease

k-burdonGround-breaking research in teasing out which genes are contributing to complex eye diseases has won Dr Kathryn Burdon a Young Tall Poppy Award for Science at the recent South Australian awards.

Most debilitating eye diseases that can lead to blindness are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, and Dr Burdon, who is the Peter Doherty Research Fellow in Ophthalmic Genetics at Flinders University, is part of a team working on common diseases including cataract, glaucoma, keratoconus and diabetic eye diseases
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Dr Burdon said her work involves comparing the DNA of large cohorts of disease-affected people with that of people who do not have the diseases to begin to identify the underlying causes.

Thanks to recent progress in technology, Dr Burdon said, researchers are able to compare the entire genome of affected patients with that of normal controls, making the investigation much more cost effective and speedy than even a decade ago.

“It’s a very exciting time to be involved in genetic research,” Dr Burdon said. “Although people have been working on it for a long time, it’s right now that discoveries are being made in all complex diseases.”

The Young Tall Poppy Awards recognise the achievements of South Australian scientists under 35 and are selected on the basis of research achievements and a passion for communicating their work.

The author of 40 journal articles in the past six years, Dr Burdon has also communicated her research on television, radio, invited talks, and for an audio magazine distributed to blind and visually impaired subscribers.

The Awards were presented by The Hon Michael O’Brien, South Australia’s Minister for Science and Technology, and the State Governor, His Excellency Rear Admiral Kevin Scarce.

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