Tackling leading cause of blindness

Eye cells will be used to explore potential treatments for macular oedema, as part of a large funding commitment awarded in the search of better treatments for Australia’s leading cause of blindness.

The macula is the part of the retina that is responsible for reading and driving vision, and an estimated 8.5 million Australians live with or are at risk of macular disease.

Professor Justine Smith, Matthew Flinders Distinguished Professor, has been awarded a $300,000 research grant from Macular Disease Foundation Australia (MDFA), including co-investment from the College of Medicine and Public Health at Flinders University, to investigate the possibility of treating macular oedema by blocking the actions of molecules called ‘cytokines’.

Professor Smith says macular oedema causes loss of sight in a wide range of diseases – from diabetic eye disease to retinitis pigmentosa – and her goal is to explore the possibility of treating it by repurposing drugs that are already in use for diseases outside the eye.

“We are going to investigate the involvement of molecules for which drugs are already available for other diseases. This means half the battle is fought as the research begins.”

The study is one of eight research projects awarded more than $1 million in research funding in a ceremony marking 10 years of significant advances in the search for a cure to Australia’s leading cause of blindness on Wednesday May 19, 2021.

The grants were presented to eight cutting-edge Australian researchers who are working to reduce the incidence and impact of macular disease by His Excellency the Honourable David Hurley, Governor-General of Australia, at Admiralty House in Sydney.

MDFA CEO Dee Hopkins says MDFA did not expect to finance eight projects when applications opened last October, but this round of funding is testament to the depth of talent among Australian researchers.

“This announcement underlines the sheer volume of gifted researchers – including early-career researchers – that Australia is producing,” Ms Hopkins says.

About Macular Disease Foundation Australia (MDFA)

MDFA is the peak national body representing the voice of the macular disease community. It is committed to reducing the incidence and impact of macular disease, the leading cause of blindness and severe vision loss in Australia. It provides a range of information and support services via its National Helpline 1800 111 709 and website.

About MDFA’s Research Grants Program

MDFA’s Research Grants Program was launched in 2011. Over the past decade, MDFA has invested $5.1 million in world-class Australian researchers – the largest non-government source of research funds for macular disease in Australia. Including this 2021 round of funding, MDFA Research Grants have supported 29 projects by 25 different researchers.

In 2021, MDFA also launched the Grant Family Fund, which provides grants to early-career researchers for innovative and creative ‘blue sky’ projects in the field of macular disease. The Grant Family Fund is a biennial grant opportunity made possible by a generous bequest from the estate of the late Faye Grant.


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