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Boost for glaucoma and giant cell arteritis research

Eamonn_ElisabethUnderstanding the key factors behind the debilitating diseases of glaucoma and giant cell arteritis has become closer thanks to the Australian Government’s latest funding round from the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Two of CERA’s promising young clinician scientists, Dr Elisabeth De Smit and Dr Eamonn Fahy received Postgraduate Scholarships to support their critical research.

Dr De Smit’s research will explore the molecular processes behind giant cell arteritis (GCA) – an inflammatory disease affecting blood supply to the eye and potentially causing irreversible sudden visual loss to occur. This disease is therefore considered a true medical emergency.

To date there is no obvious cause as to why some individuals develop GCA. Dr De Smit is investigating the mechanism that causes this disease. She is also investigating the genetic risk factors for the disease by conducting a genome-wide association study using biopsy samples from all over Australia. The aim is to analyse the DNA in these samples and look for common genes which may predispose individuals to GCA.

“If we can identify the genes involved,” said Dr De Smit, “we may be able to develop new ways to treat the disease.”

Dr Fahy’s research seeks to improve our understanding of glaucoma; one of the most common eye diseases, impacting about 300,000 Australians.

Current treatment for glaucoma centres on lowering intraocular pressure to slow the disease’s progression. However, glaucoma often exists with normal intraocular pressure or worsens despite lowering pressure with treatment.

Dr Fahy’s research will investigate three early changes in the optic nerve which have been suggested as contributing to the mechanism that causes glaucoma. By exploring these changes in relation to loss and recovery of retinal function, he hopes to learn more about how glaucoma progresses.

“If we can show that reversing these changes restores the retinal function, we may be able to develop new therapeutic targets,” said Dr Fahy.

CERA Managing Director Professor Jonathan Crowston said it is great to see the Australian Government recognising and supporting the careers of talented and highly qualified clinician scientists who will lead medical breakthroughs of the future.