Eye research boosted at Auckland

26 November 2013

Eye research at the University of Auckland has received a boost with three major grants from the Health Research Council’s latest funding round. The funding, totalling $1.42 million, will enable researchers to make progress in developing new therapies for debilitating eye conditions such as cataracts and diseases of the cornea.

Eye surgeon and clinician Associate Professor Dipika Patel from the University of Auckland will use her HRC Clinical Practitioner Research Fellowship to further develop a new scaffold that could become a substitute for human corneal tissue.  Ultimately, the scaffold would replace human donor corneas in transplant operations. The current waiting time for cornea transplantation in New Zealand is more than a year. In many other countries, donor corneal tissue isn’t available.

“The development of a suitable tissue substitute would have a dramatic effect on reducing waiting times for surgical treatment and may enable treatment of corneal diseases that are not currently suitable for transplantation,” says Dr Patel.

If successful, Dr Patel says this work will open up a wide range of avenues in the field of tissue engineering and reconstructive surgery.

Dr Angus Grey from the University of Auckland has received a Sir Charles Hercus Health Research Fellowship to tackle cataracts, the world’s most preventable form of blindness.

Dr Grey will use his expertise in imaging mass spectrometry to discover what role small molecules and metabolites (substances produced during metabolism) play in the development of cataracts.

Each year some 16,000 cataract surgeries are performed in New Zealand.

Dr Grey says the research will provide the information needed to develop novel anti-cataract therapies that use nutritional supplements to delay the progression of the cataract on the eye’s lens.

Associate Professor Dipika Patel

University of Auckland eye specialist Dr Ilva Rupenthal plans to use her Sir Charles Hercus Health Research Fellowship to develop biodegradable eye implants that can slowly release medication for eye diseases over up to six months. Non-invasive laser light passed through the cornea will activate the implants to provide top-up doses of medication.

“These awards are a fantastic opportunity to help some of New Zealand’s best and brightest become world-class leaders in their fields, and to translate cutting-edge research from bench to bedside,” says HRC Chief Executive Dr Robin Olds.

HRC Career Development Awards 2014 to University of Auckland researchers include:

Sir Charles Hercus Health Research Fellowship

Dr Angus Grey, University of Auckland
Spatially-resolved metabolomics of cataractogenesis
4 years, $500,000

Dr Ilva Rupenthal, University of Auckland
Stimuli-responsive ocular implants: More than meets the eye?
4 years, $500,000

Associate Professor Dipika Patel, University of Auckland
A novel biosynthetic tissue substitute for transplantation
4 years, $500,000

Clinical Research Training Fellowship

Dr Suneela Mehta, University of Auckland
Can we predict CVD risk population-wide using only routinely collected data?
4 years, $166,600

Dr Cordelia Russell, University of Auckland
Pathways to healthy development in New Zealand preschool children
3 years, $250,000

Dr Iris Wainiqolo, University of Auckland
Road injuries in the Pacific: disability, costs and health system indicators
3 years, $250,000

Dr Kathryn Williamson, University of Auckland
Management of neonatal hyperglycaemia
3 years, $250,000

Foxley Fellowship

Dr Timothy Jelleyman, University of Auckland
The community child wellbeing tool: a framework for population health action
2 years, $187,800


For more information contact:

Suzi PhillipsMedia Relations Advisor
Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences
The University of Auckland
Email s.phillips@auckland.ac.nz
Phone +64 9 923 7383 or Mob 021416396

Dr Ilva Rupenthal