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    Macular disease research symposium

    More research needed, despite extraordinary progress.

    Importance of research to finding macular disease cure

    Macular degeneration research, including breakthroughs to-date and a look at current and future research, was the focus of the Macular Degeneration Awareness Week Research Symposium held on 24 May 2017 in Sydney. 

    The symposium opened with Foundation Chairman Robert Kaye welcoming over 100 invited guests, Foundation Patron Ita Buttrose, and guest speakers Professor Paul Mitchell, A/Professor Gerald Liew and Professor Damien Harkin.  

    Robert thanked all who had supported the Foundation’s efforts to raise funds for research, and told how he hoped that together, we can continue to support the great researchers in this country. 

    Foundation Patron Ita Buttrose spoke about her personal experience with macular degeneration and how, after witnessing the devastating effect that losing sight had on her father, she was spurred on to help raise awareness of the disease and in 2005 became the Foundation’s Patron.

    She spoke about why she believes that research into macular degeneration is vitally important, and yet receives a tiny fraction of government funding compared to many other diseases. 

    Keynote speaker, Professor Paul Mitchell, who is one of the world’s leading experts on the epidemiology and treatment of macular diseases, spoke about the major advances in macular degeneration research to date. This included explanation of the importance of new knowledge on risk factors, improved diagnostic tests and the extraordinary transformation in treatment that has resulted from the development of anti-VEGF injections for wet AMD.

    He then discussed some of the future directions, challenges and hopes. He highlighted that the development of an effective treatment for dry AMD is a major global priority and how the explosion in knowledge of the genetics of macular degeneration is opening up many exciting opportunities for new therapies.  

    Professor Mitchell was followed by presentations from A/Professor Gerald Liew and Professor Damien Harkin who gave informative and engaging updates on the current findings of their individual research projects, both part funded by the Macular Disease Foundation Australia Research Grants Program.  

    A/Professor Liew’s project involves cutting-edge research in the new field of metabolomics, which has the potential to develop a simple new blood test for the disease and to identify possible new targets for treatment. Professor Harkin is working on a biological scaffold on which new retinal cells can be grown for subsequent transplantation into the eye.

    The funding from the Foundation has enabled Professor Harkin to develop the scaffold to the point where he has been able to attract substantial NHMRC funding and form local and international collaborations to shortly commence clinical trials. 

    A panel discussion facilitated by Foundation Patron Ita Buttrose followed, with wide ranging discussion. This included the importance of funding through the NHMRC and the Foundation’s own Research Grants Program, discussion on the importance of collaboration between researchers, both within Australia and abroad, and how future research needs to focus on dry macular degeneration. The advances being made should also give substantial hope to those living with the disease. 

    At the conclusion of the panel discussion, guests had the opportunity to direct questions to our guest researchers. 

    Key takeouts included:

    • Extraordinary progress has been made in our understanding and management of macular degeneration – but there is so much more to be done.
    • A major focus for future research needs to be into treatment of dry macular degeneration.
    • The importance of the Foundation’s Research Grants Program in funding research projects into the disease.

    Thank you to corporate partners, Bayer and Blackmores who support the Macular Degeneration Awareness Week campaign, and to Perpetual who kindly hosted the event. 

    Posted: 26 May 2017

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