Dr Sandy Hung, Dr Elsa Chan and Dr Tom Edwards
From gene therapy to improving glaucoma surgery, three CERA research projects have gained support from the Ophthalmic Research Institute of Australia (ORIA).
CERA researchers Dr Elsa Chan, Dr Sandy Hung and Dr Tom Edwards have been awarded ORIA grants for 2020, allowing them to further exciting projects across glaucoma and inherited eye disease.
ORIA is a not for profit organisation dedicated to promoting research into the causes of eye diseases and the prevention of blindness. Since 1953, it has been providing vital support to advance eye research in Australia, with an annual research grants program.
“CERA is very grateful for ORIA’s support of these three innovative projects in 2020,” says Professor Keith Martin, CERA Managing Director.
“This will enable our researchers to continue investigations with real-world impact, and potentially improve the treatment of eye diseases.”
A new drug to control scarring after glaucoma surgery
Surgery to lower the pressure in the eye can be an effective treatment for glaucoma when medications and laser have not been enough. However, scar tissue can form, which often causes the surgery to fail.
With the support of an ORIA grant, Dr Elsa Chan is investigating a new drug that could help control scarring after surgery, leading to better outcomes for patients.
“We found a reactive oxygen species producing enzyme termed Nox4, which promotes scarring,” Dr Chan says.
“We have identified a synthetic flavonoid that blocks Nox4. We will assess whether this compound can be used to limit scarring in glaucoma surgery.”
Genetic editing to treat Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy
Dr Sandy Hung, Lisa Kearns and Dr Helena Liang were awarded an ORIA grant to support their innovative research into genetic editing technology for Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON).
LHON is an inherited optic nerve condition that causes devastating vision loss in patients, and is currently untreatable. For this project, the team is investigating an approach that could correct the defective genes causing the disease.
“Recent revolutionary discoveries in the genetic engineering field have greatly improved our ability to modify and edit DNA,” Dr Hung explains.
“This project aims to develop and adapt new gene editing technology to correct the three most common LHON genetic changes (mutations), providing a novel strategy for gene therapy to cure LHON.”
Testing a gene therapy for inherited retinal disease
Dr Tom Edwards, CERA’s Principal Investigator in Retinal Gene Therapy Research, was awarded the Hardie Anselmi Grant for his work developing a gene therapy to treat a form of inherited eye disease.
“This grant will provide ongoing support for the next phase of pre-clinical testing for this gene therapy,” Dr Edwards says.
“We will be testing the delivery a genetic payload into cell and animal models, and also developing an assay to validate the enzymatic function of the resultant protein.”