04 June 2015

Award to help researcher make visible difference

A WA Health clinician researcher working to improve outcomes for patients with retinal and macular degeneration – the most common causes of irreversible blindness – is 1 of 7 researchers to share in $70,000 of State Government research support funding.

Royal Perth Hospital consultant ophthalmologist Fred Chen will use his New Independent Researcher Infrastructure Support (NIRIS) award to support several retinal research projects in which he is involved. These encompass the use of stem cells to study disease mechanism, finding new therapies for retinitis pigmentosa, validating retinal imaging tools used to monitor disease progression, tissue engineering for cellular therapy and randomised controlled trials in dry and wet macular degenerations.

Dr Chen said he hoped the translation of such research would ultimately help lead to the prevention of retinal blindness.

“About 12,000 Western Australians live with impaired vision due to retinal or macular degeneration and about 5,000 new cases are diagnosed each year,” he said.

“Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for existing treatments in macular degeneration to only delay patients’ inevitable visual loss. Therefore, the discovery and testing of novel treatments for these diseases are urgently needed.”

WA Health Acting Director General Bryant Stokes said retinal degeneration could severely diminish a person’s quality of life so it was wonderful to see such important research being undertaken in this state.

Professor Stokes said the NIRIS awards recognised outstanding new independent medical and health researchers in Western Australia by helping them to meet the infrastructure costs of their research.

“These researchers are to be congratulated on their achievement,” he said.

“A review of past NIRIS recipients revealed that around 60 per cent went on to receive research funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council, attesting to the high calibre of these researchers.”

Since its inception in 2001, the NIRIS program has provided 103 WA-based medical and health researchers with a total of $1,185,000.

Dr Chen will use his NIRIS award to buy software and computing equipment.

The 2015 NIRIS award recipients are:

  • Dr Fred Chen, Centre for Ophthalmology and Visual Science, Lions Eye Institute
  • Dr Barry Doyle, School of Mechanical and Chemical Engineering, University of Western Australia
  • Dr Veer Bala Gupta, School of Medical Sciences, Edith Cowan University
  • Dr Jonine Jancy, School of Public Health, Curtin University
  • Dr Willem Joost Lesterhuis, School of Medicine and Pharmacology, The University of Western Australia
  • Dr Tom Snelling, Telethon Kids Institute
  • Dr Teresa Williams, School of Nursing, Midwifery and Paramedicine, Curtin University.

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