Giving Day generosity puts hope in sight

Generous donors have helped raise vital funds for gene therapy research on Hope in Sight Giving Day.


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CERA’s research using cellular reprogramming to ‘switch on sight’ has received a major boost after donors gave generously to our Hope in Sight Giving Day.

Donors’ generous support helped exceed our target and raise more than $191,000 for Dr Raymond Wong’s research.

Giving Day offered donors the opportunity to triple their impact – with the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia and CERA Foundation each matching each dollar donated up to $50,000.

Even after our target of $150,000 was achieved early in the day, donors continued to give generously helping us raise more than $191,000.

About Dr Wong’s research

Dr Wong’s research aims to develop a gene therapy to regenerate the retina’s photoreceptor cells.

“Photoreceptors are tiny cells in the retina at the back of our eye – which pick up light and send the signal from the retina to the brain, enabling us to see,’’ explains Dr Wong.

“They rely on a series of complex genetic signals to operate properly. When these signals misfire, or the cell is damaged, irreversible vision loss and blindness can occur.

“Currently there is no cure for blindness once photoreceptors are lost but my research is aiming to change that.’’

Dr Wong’s research aims to help 190 million people worldwide experiencing diseases where the death of photoreceptors leads to blindness. These include rare Inherited retinal diseases (IRDs) like retinitis pigmentosa or Stargardt’s disease and more common conditions such as age-related macular degeneration.

Dr Wong’s team have mapped the precise genetic profile which enables photoreceptors to function properly.

They are now attempting to ‘reprogram’ stem cells in the retina, known as Muller glia cells, and turn them into photoreceptors to restore sight.

Currently, the research is in pre-clinical stages, being tested on cells in the lab. Over the long-term they hope their research will lead gene therapies to treat blindness.

Inspiring stories

Donors were inspired by the story of Melbourne commerce student, and keen long distance runner, Billy Morton was the face of this year’s campaign.

Billy, 22, was first diagnosed with the rare genetic disease choroideremia in his early teens and has experienced a progressive loss of night and peripheral vision.

He is now living with an uncertain prognosis – and does not know how much vision he will ultimately lose or how fast the disease will progress.

Supporting research

The success of Giving Day would not have been possible without the generous support of our matched funders such as the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia and the CERA Foundation.

“Supporting Australian stem cell researchers pursuing cures for, as yet untreatable, diseases is a core part of our mission,” says National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia General Manager Graeme Mehegan.

“Dr Wong and his colleagues at CERA have an outstanding scientific track record. It’s a pleasure to partner with them to give real hope for people with vision loss on this World Sight Day.”

Dr Wong says the money raised on Giving Day will further accelerate the pace of his research.

“It will move us one step closer to our goal of developing a treatment which could potentially restore sight,’’ he says.


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