Flinders University’s Professor Keryn Williams, the sight pioneer who was instrumental in establishing the Australian Corneal Graft Registry, has been awarded a merit of the highest degree, receiving a Companion of the Order of Australia in the Australia Day Honours.
Her honour also reflects her dedication to mentoring and supporting young women scientists.
Since 1985, the Flinders Medical Centre-based registry has collected records of 30,000 corneal transplant operations from more than 750 ophthalmic surgeons across Australia, providing a vital database about corneal grafts.
It has been described as the world’s largest repository of information about corneal transplants and supports corneal donations made to the Eye Bank of South Australia.
The insights collected from the registry data have led to a number of other countries establishing registries based on the Flinders model, and Flinders data is often used in international comparative studies into improved corneal transplants.
In Australia, the number of transplants each year is about 1,600 and very few people have to wait for their sight-restoring surgery.
“Corneal damage is one of the key causes of blindness in Australia and around the world,” Professor Williams says in the University’s 50th Anniversary The Investigator Transformed publication.
One of the most important breakthroughs she led was to smash the belief that cornea donors had to be young.
“Most donors are aged 68 to 80 but we have had one who was 98. They really can be any age,” Professor Williams told The Advertiser.
As a result Australia now has virtually no waiting list for corneal transplants for the 1200 patients who need a transplant each year.
“We think the gene therapy approach holds great promise, and also harnessing nanotechnology.”
Professor Williams, who was previously the NHMRC Principal Research Fellow at the Department of Ophthalmology and previous Associate Dean (Research) in Health Sciences at Flinders, was also commended as an academic and mentor, and as a supporter of young women scientists, as well as “for eminent service to medical science in the field of ophthalmology through the research and development of corneal transplantation.”
Professor Williams is still actively involved in world-class ophthalmology research at Flinders.
Flinders Vice-Chancellor Professor Colin Stirling congratulated Professor Williams and says the honour is worthy recognition of her incredible commitment across three decades of pioneering work in the field of ophthalmology.
Other Flinders University staff and alumni acknowledged in the Honours list include:
Flinders graduates Professor David Cooper, from Monash University, and Associate Professor Helen Evans (University of Melbourne) were made Officers (AO) in the General Division of the Order of Australia in the 2017 Australia Day Honours.
Professor Cooper was commended for distinguished service to intensive care medicine in the field of traumatic brain injury as a clinician and to medical education as an academic, researcher and author.
Associate Professor Evans received an AO for distinguished service to global health as an advocate for the improved treatment of infectious diseases in underprivileged populations, particularly women and children.
Dr Tom Karmel, an Adjunct Professor at the National Institute of Labour Studies at Flinders University, was commended for “significant service to vocational education research and administration, and to the community through public administration roles”.
He became a Member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia
Professor Karmel, who is joint editor of the Australian Bulletin of Labour and sits on the editorial board of the Australian Journal of Education, was previously managing director of the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER).
After a range of senior roles in the Commonwealth Department of Education (1995-2002), he was a Senior Research Fellow for the UNESCO Chair at the Hong Kong Institute of Education (2012-15) and is a current council member at the University of Canberra and member of the Higher Education Reference Group at the Grattan Institute.
Professor Karmel graduated from Flinders in 1972 before undertaking PhD studies at the ANU.
Flinders graduates who received AM awards included Mr Michael Moore, Mr Simon Schrapel and Dr Robert Stimson, a former council member of the University.
They were respectively acknowledged for significant service to:
- Community health, particularly to social policy reform, and to the community of the Australian Capital Territory;
- Community, particularly to children and families through social welfare organisations, programs and initiatives;
- Science as a researcher and academic, particularly in the discipline of analytical human geography.
Distinguished alumni Ms Marilyn Beaumont (community service, particularly for women) and Ms Elizabeth Bowell (for service to nursing and international natural disaster health care assistance) each received the Medal (OAM) of the Order of Australia in the General Division.
Social work graduate (1995) Evelyn Robinson also received a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for service to the community, particularly to persons separated by adoption.
Flinders graduate Mrs Kerryn Ernst received a Public Service Medal while former staff member Mr Robert Davis was given an Australian Fire Service Medal, having been a CFS and community volunteer since 1965.