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CERA researchers awarded grants for key vision projects

Centre for Eye Research Australia researchers Deputy Director Professor Robyn Guymer and Associate Professor Alex Hewitt have been awarded more than $1.4 million in two major Project grants as part of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) 2016 funding announcements.

Picture of Prof Robyn Guymer in front of an eye chart

Professor Robyn Guymer 

Professor Guymer’s grant is for work to understand the underlying mechanisms by which debris accumulates in the retina in age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

“Finding out more about this process is critical for understanding disease pathways and ultimately developing novel treatments targets for early AMD,” Professor Guymer said.

For the past two decades, Professor Guymer’s research has focused almost exclusively on AMD, the leading cause of vision loss and legal blindness in Australians over 50 years of age.

Professor Guymer studies all aspects of this disease, from better understanding the pathological causes and risk factors, to defining the clinical signs and severity of the disease in a living eye, to testing of novel treatments for every stage of its progression.

Associate Professor Hewitt’s grant will lay the foundation for a new generation of gene therapy.

“Many blinding diseases manifest by the degeneration of retinal cells, and collectively inherited retinal diseases are now the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults,” Associate Professor Hewitt said.

Associate Professor Alex Hewitt

Associate Professor Alex Hewitt

“While the specific mutations that cause many of the inherited eye diseases have been identified, none of these conditions are currently treatable.

The goal is to build towards therapies that will enable direct gene-editing in the eye,” he said.

In July, Professor Guymer and Associate Professor Hewitt received top honours from the NHMRC for their work; Professor Guymer was awarded a prestigious NHMRC Elizabeth Blackburn Fellowship and Associate Professor  Alex Hewitt was recognised as the top-ranked NHMRC Practitioner Fellowship applicant.