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    Investigating macular oedema

    Meet a researcher: Prof Justine Smith

    This exciting research project, being funded by Macular Disease Foundation Australia’s Research Grants Program, is looking at the potential to use existing drugs to treat macular oedema.

    Oedema is the swelling caused by a build-up of fluid. When this fluid collects in the macula, that part of the retina responsible for detailed central vision, it has the potential to cause vision loss. This condition is known as macular oedema.

    Macular oedema can be caused by a range of both common and rare eye diseases. For example, diabetic macular oedema is a sight-threatening complication of diabetic retinopathy. It’s the most common reason that people with diabetic eye disease lose their vision. 

    Macular oedema can be developed by people with retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited retinal disease, and it is a frequent problem for people who suffer from inflammation inside the eye, known as uveitis. There are a range of other conditions that could also cause macular oedema. 

    Treatments for macular oedema are best administered by injection of medication directly into the eye. However, these current treatments have limitations, including lack of effectiveness across different diseases and eye complications.

    The research project

    The MDFA-funded research will look at targeting inflammatory cytokines in macular oedema. It will be conducted at Flinders University.

    Professor Justine Smith explains that macular oedema occurs because there is disruption of the many natural mechanisms that keep the tissue dehydrated.

    “Our work focuses on molecules known as cytokines that disrupt these mechanisms,” Prof Smith explains.

    “We will use human eye cells to create disease models in the laboratory and explore the possibility of blocking the actions of cytokines to treat macular oedema.

    “Drugs that block cytokines are already being prescribed for other diseases, and they could be repurposed for macular oedema.”

    The MDFA Research Grants Program has allocated $250,000 to Prof Smith’s project, over two years. Since 2011, MDFA has become the largest non-government source of research funds for macular disease in Australia. This is possible only with the support of generous donors.

    Posted: 19 May 2021

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