Professor Erica Fletcher heads the Visual Neuroscience Laboratory in the Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience at The University of Melbourne. She is a clinically trained optometrist who holds both MSc and PhD degrees. In 1996, Professor Fletcher was awarded a highly coveted, CJ Martin Award from the NH&MRC to undertake her post-doctoral training with Prof. Dr. Heinz Wässle, at the Max-Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt, Germany. In 2006 she was awarded the Irvin M and Beatrice Borish Award from the American Academy of Optometry for her contribution to vision research.
Professor Fletcher was awarded a Macular Disease Foundation Australia Research Grant for $180,000 over two years.
Her research, titled ‘Targeting monocyte phagocytosis to reduce progression of age-related macular degeneration’ is a collaboration between The University of Melbourne and Centre for Eye Research Australia.
This project builds on Prof Fletcher's previous research funded by the Foundation which showed that the failure of certain immune cells (monocytes) to remove the accumulation of waste products (drusen) under the retina in a process called phagocytosis may be a major contributor to the development of early and dry AMD. Professor Fletcher will firstly examine whether measuring the phagocytic function of these cells can be used as a diagnostic blood test to identify people at greatest risk of disease progression. Secondly, she will test a number of new proteins to see if they can improve the ability of monocytes to remove the waste products, as potential treatments to slow or stop disease development.
2013 Macular Disease Foundation Research Grant
On 10 October 2013 Macular Disease Foundation Australia awarded then - Associate Professor Fletcher a research grant to support her research into how the removal of debris in the eyes changes as we age. This research was a step towards identifying early markers for those people with a high risk of disease progression. The information gained from this project is crucial for developing new treatments for macular degeneration.
The aim of the project was to examine a possible cause for the development and progression of early age-related macular degeneration. In particular, whether signalling of immune cells via receptors called purinergic receptors influenced the removal of debris as we age, predisposing people to the disease and also its progression.
Professor Fletcher’s project examined the role of genetic variations that affect the role of a group of compounds called purines in the early development of macular degeneration. The key findings from her research include the potential to develop a new treatment for dry age-related macular degeneration.
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