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Eye researchers awarded top Australian research fellowships

Picture of Prof Robyn Guymer in front of an eye chart

Prof Robyn Guymer received the NHMRC Elizabeth Blackburn Fellowship.

Two researchers from the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) received top honours from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) at an event in Canberra tonight.

Deputy Director Professor Robyn Guymer was awarded a prestigious NHMRC Elizabeth Blackburn Fellowship to support her research into Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), whilst A/Prof Alex Hewitt has been recognised as the top-ranked NHMRC Practitioner Fellowship applicant.

The Elizabeth Blackburn Fellowships are awarded annually to the highest ranked female applicant in each of the biomedical, clinical and public health pillars of the NHMRC’s Research Fellowship scheme. Prof Guymer received the award for the Clinical Science and Medicine category.

Prof Robyn Guymer is a clinician-researcher focusing almost exclusively on AMD, the leading cause of vision loss and legal blindness in Australians over 50 years of age. Prof Guymer’s research over the past two decades has looked at all aspects of this disease, from better understanding the pathological causes and risk factors of AMD, to defining the clinical signs and severity of the disease in a living eye, to testing of novel treatments for every stage of the disease.

“This fellowship will enable me to continue expanding the AMD research field by collaborating with basic scientists to address underlying mechanisms of the disease and then take our research findings into the clinic,” said Prof Guymer.

Prof Guymer said she was honoured to receive the Elizabeth Blackburn Fellowship, which is specifically designed to support female scientists at the top of their field. “Like many women, I have to balance my family commitments with my career. I have to make choices every day – do I attend a networking event or a junior soccer match? We have come some way in trying to recognise and account for the impact of having children on a women’s career, but it is also important to acknowledge the ongoing impact of family commitments on careers (mainly women’s) as the children grow up.”

Pic of A/Prof Alex Hewitt with eye testing equipment

A/Prof Alex Hewitt was the top-ranked NHMRC Practitioner Fellowship applicant.

A/Prof Alex Hewitt (CERA and the University of Tasmania) received a Research Excellence Award as the top ranked NHMRC Practitioner Fellowship applicant for his work on patient-specific stem cell lines and emerging gene-editing techniques. A/Prof Hewitt’s research aims to understand the precise molecular mechanisms leading to blinding disease and develop novel therapies for these diseases.

“The overarching goal is to ensure that through targeted, evidence-based intervention, the next generation of people genetically predisposed to blinding ocular diseases have a dramatically different natural history to their forebears,” said A/Prof Hewitt.

NHMRC Practitioner Fellowships are designed to support research that results in the translation of evidence into improved clinical practice and health policy, delivering improvements in health and healthcare to Australians.