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Ophthalmology at Melbourne turns 50

image-tools (83)Fifty years ago, ophthalmology research was virtually non-existent in Australia. All that changed in 1963, when 34-year old ophthalmologist Gerard Crock was appointed as Australia’s first Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Melbourne.

Professor Crock was a pioneer in the field of eye research and led the Department of Ophthalmology into the age of microsurgery. His skills as a surgeon, and the inventions of his team, saved the sight of thousands. With Bernard O’Brien, one of Australia’s pioneering microsurgeons, Professor Crock developed microsutures – needles and threads so fine that veins the size of a pin’s head could be repaired or joined.

When he retired, Professor Crock passed the baton to Hugh Taylor. A friend and colleague of Fred Hollows, Professor Taylor has had a long-standing passion for improving the eye health of Australia’s Indigenous people which he brought to his new appointment.

In 1996, Hugh Taylor established the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) as a spin-off research institute to the Department of Ophthalmology. The Department and CERA have been working in close harmony ever since and have grown together into Australia’s leading ophthalmic research group, ranked today among the top five in the world in terms of scientific publication output.

Since 2009, Professor Jonathan Crowston, a clinician-scientist and glaucoma specialist, has been at the helm as Head of the University Department of Ophthalmology and Managing Director of CERA. Under his leadership, the Department and CERA are extending their work in basic science and clinical, translational research.

The new Vision Regeneration research program, started in 2012, is now tackling a new frontier in eye health research. Stem cell researchers, geneticists, bionics and cytoprotection pharmacology experts are working together in a multi-disciplinary approach towards a common goal: to restore vision for people who have lost their sight.

“It’s an ambitious goal” says Professor Crowston, “and we are the people best placed to pursue this dream. The depth of research talent in our organisation is exceptional, and the integration of our research with the Royal Victorian Eye & Ear Hospital and the University of Melbourne puts us in a unique position. The University’s motto ‘dream large’ fits ophthalmology perfectly as it comes of age in its 50th year.”

“Fifty is a special milestone and we are going to celebrate, and we want our family and friends – supporters, partners, alumni, and our patients – to join us,” said Professor Crowston. “You have all helped make us what we are today: a world class eye research group.”