Eye research gets grant boost

06 May 2013

Patients with blinding diseases such as age-related macular degeneration may not have to endure frequent eye injections in the future.

Post-doctoral researcher Dr Ilva Rupenthal from The University of Auckland has been awarded an Emerging Researcher First Grant of $149,994 from the Health Research Council of New Zealand.

She was one of five emerging researchers from The University of Auckland who were awarded major grants for research in medical and health science and bioengineering by the HRC this month, totalling more than $700,000.

The grant is to design a biodegradable and injectable implant for the eye that will slowly release drugs over a period of 6 to 12 months.

“The implant will need replacing only once or twice a year, and top-up doses of drugs can be released using non-invasive light activation through the cornea,” says Dr Rupenthal from the University’s Department of Ophthalmology.

In addition to designing an injectable implant, Dr Rupenthal plans to develop efficient gene carriers that will protect the drugs from degrading and improve their penetration into the retinal tissues and cellular uptake, thus reducing the effective dose required.

“Blinding diseases are currently treated by frequent injections of drug-containing solution into the eyeball, an unpleasant procedure that requires frequent specialist visits with demand currently exceeding supply,” says Dr Rupenthal.

“This [project] will minimise injection frequency and the need for specialist visits, decreasing the overall treatment costs, while significantly improving treatment efficacy and the quality of life of those affected by blinding diseases,” she says.

Dr Rupenthal was one of 10 people awarded an Emerging Researcher First Grant from the HRC this year to support emerging researchers who are seeking to establish independent careers in health research.

The other four emerging researchers to receive these grants from the HRC were;

  • Dr Marianne Elston, for research into ‘Thyrotoxicosis: Assessment of ethnic differences in presentation and outcome’, for 36 months, $150,000
  • Dr Patricia Neuwelt, for research into 'Acceptability' and access to primary care: The reception process’, for 30 months, $148,730
  • Dr Stephen Ritchie, for research into ‘Understanding nasal flora and prevention of Staphylococcus aureus disease’, for 24 months, $148,824
  • Dr Jichao Zhao, for research into ‘Living with chaos: Structural remodelling and persistent atrial fibrillation’ for 36 months, $133,600

“I’m very pleased that through these grants we can give the next generation of talented researchers the chance to lead their own research,” says the HRC’s Chief Executive Dr Robin Olds. “These young people are outstanding in their respective research fields and with these grants they will be able to conduct research that will help improve the health and quality of life of all New Zealanders.”

For more information contact;

Suzi Phillips Media Relations Advisor Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences The University of Auckland s.phillips@auckland.ac.nz Mob 021 416 396 Phone +64 9 373 7599 ext 87383