ORIA Grant Update: Dr Fred Chen Paves the Way for Stem Cell Therapy for Age-related Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is currently one of the most common causes of blindness worldwide. Each year, over 2,500 individuals are registered blind in Australia and two thirds of these people are blinded by AMD. Currently there is no treatment to replace the damaged cells that cause blindness in AMD patients. In 2017, the Ophthalmic Research Institute of Australia (ORIA) awarded Dr Fred Chen the Richard and Ina Humbley Foundation Grant of $50,000 to investigate new ways to treat AMD by replacing the damaged cells that cause vison loss in AMD patients.

With this grant, Dr Fred Chen and his team at Lions Eye Institute, Perth, explored the possibility of using an easily accessible source of human adult nerve stem cells to restore the damaged eye cells. For over two decades, stem cells on the surface of the front of the eye have been used in clinics and the procedure for harvesting these cells is simple and safe. As a result of their research, Dr Chen and his team were able to show that these stem cells obtained from the left over donor eye tissue returned to the Lions Eye Bank can be grown into cells that behave like nerve stem cells in a petri dish. Building upon this new evidence, the research team began to investigate whether this could be used as a treatment for replacing damaged cells in diseases like AMD.

Thanks to ORIA funding and Lions Eye Bank, the research team were able to demonstrate that an easily accessible source of cell from the patient’s own eye can potentially be used to prevent further retinal cell loss. This finding confirmed results from previous studies using human nerve stem cells. The research team’s work has opened up new possibilities for future ophthalmic research into cell replacement to treat AMD and restore vision.

The results of the study were published in RANZCO’s scientific journal, Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology.

Notification, 22 February 2019: All applicants, please note the following change to p.6 of the ORIA 2020 Application Guidelines

17 Qualifications and experience of the chief investigator and co-investigators

A two page CV (listing track record of research as per the NHMRC) for each investigator and the supervisor of a new investigator, including publications over the last ten years, clearly indicating those publications where the ORIA has contributed funding towards the work. Only published papers or those accepted for publication should be included. The same font size (12) as in the main grant proposal should be used for the CV. Any more than two pages will not be considered and all pages after the second page will be removed.

The application round for research grants for 2020 is now open

Applications for research grants are sought from ophthalmologists, trainee ophthalmologists, University Departments (or equivalent) of Ophthalmology or ophthalmic research institutes.

The closing date for applications is Wednesday 15 May 2019. Each grant is peer reviewed by ORIA’s Research Advisory Committee and applicants will be notified of the outcome during November at RANZCO’s Congress in Sydney, NSW.

Download a copy of Application Guidelines 2020 here.

For further information contact RANZCO Research and Grants Officer Margaret Lum at Mlum@ranzco.edu or through the RANZCO switchboard on +61 2 9690 1001.

ORIA Chief Executive Anne Dunn-Snape steps down

After many years of dedicated service, ORIA CEO Anne Dunn-Snape has today retired from her role. Anne’s tireless work for ORIA has helped us to deliver against our objective of promoting research into the causes of eye disease and the prevention of blindness. During Anne’s tenure, millions of dollars has been distributed in the form of ORIA grants for projects that have, and will continue to, advance eye research.

We thank Anne for her service and wish her well in her retirement.
Moving forward, the administrative services for ORIA will be provided by RANZCO, with the ORIA Board continuing to oversee the running of the organisation. The main first point of contact for ORIA will be Margaret Lum, RANZCO Grants and Research Officer, who can be contacted on mlum@ranzco.edu or through the switchboard on 02 9690 1001.

ORIA receives significant bequest to fund research into macular degeneration

The ORIA was thrilled to learn of the generosity of Mr Richard Humbley who sadly died towards the end of 2014.  As part of his estate, Mr Humbley stipulated the formation of the Richard and Ina Humbley Foundation with the sole beneficiary being the ORIA.  The income from this Foundation will be used in the future to support the ORIA’s annual funded research into macular degeneration in the hope of both assisting in alieviating symptoms for sufferers of the disease, and helping to add to the knowledge in finding a cure.  We are indebted to the Humbleys and, along with the Trustees of the Richard and Ina Humbley Foundation, proud to carry out their wishes.

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