Focus on eye health wins NHMRC recognition

eyeFlinders University Professor Keryn Williams’ 25-year mission to decrease the burden of blindness has earned her a major National Heath and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Fellowship.

The five-year Research Fellowship was announced by Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler.

It will enable Professor Williams to explore the application of gene therapy and other methods to improve outcomes in the treatment of a range of eye diseases.

Professor Williams, who is Associate Leader of the Eye and Vision Collaborative Group at Flinders, said blindness exerts significant physical, emotional and financial constraints and hardship upon individuals.

“The World Health Organisation notes that, in terms of economic loss to the community, blindness is the most expensive of all causes of chronic disability,” Professor Williams said.

“Existing treatments of some conditions do not prevent blindness in all cases,” she said.

“Corneal graft failure is associated with rejection, inflammation and neovascularisation. And inflammatory eye disease and aberrant neovascularisation of the retina are also significant causes of visual impairment.”

Professor Williams will also: investigate the basis of susceptibility to retinopathy of prematurity, a common cause of blindness in low birth-weight infants; expand the evidence-base for outcomes of human corneal transplantation; and investigate the efficacy of interventions for keratoconus, or conical cornea.

Flinders Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor David Day said the NHMRC Fellowship was a tribute to Professor Williams’ dedication to her field.

“As founder and Scientific Director of the Australian Corneal Graft Registry and founding member of the NHMRC Centre for Clinical Research Excellence in Evidence-Based Ophthalmology, Professor Williams has led a group researching causes of blindness that are common in our community,” Professor Day said.

“On behalf of Flinders and every patient whose sight has improved thanks to her pioneering efforts, I would like to extend my heartiest congratulations to Professor Williams,” he said.

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