‘Blue sky’ breakthroughs

Dr Raymond Wong explains how philanthropic funding has made all the difference to his innovative stem cell research.


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For Dr Raymond Wong, the head of Cellular Reprogramming at CERA, research is about creating knowledge that makes a difference.

“We are very excited about what we can do to help people with impaired vision.”

In late 2019, Dr Wong and his team helped develop the world’s first retinal gene atlas – Australia’s first contribution to the global Human Cell Atlas Project – that gives the precise genetic profile of each of the major cell types within the retina.

Using cutting edge technology, the CERA team is now developing a new gene therapy that has the potential to help more than 190 million people around the world who have vision impairment from retinal degenerative diseases, including retinitis pigmentosa, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic retinopathy.

Known as regenerative medicine, this therapy reprograms a cell to fulfil a different function. In the case of retinal disease, Dr Wong is aiming to reprogram stem cells in the retina to replace lost photoceptors in blinding diseases, and restore vision.

Funded by a major grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), this four-year-long research aims to provide ‘proof of concept’ in the pre-clinical model.

Getting to this point, however, was only possible because of the support of CERA donors including the Kel and Rosie Day Foundation, says Dr Wong.

“Before you can apply for these national grants, you have to build up data,” he says.

“Philanthropic funding allows us to do the ‘blue sky’ research on a project that is very promising, and enables us to progress to the point when it can be funded by the NHMRC,” he says.

“Philanthropic support, whether it’s large or small, makes all the difference.”

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