UWA’s Professor David Mackey is one of the Chief Investigators on the recently awarded 2017 ‘Top Ranked Program Grant’, presented to the highest ranked NHMRC Program Grant in the country and the largest ever grant for glaucoma research.
Professor Mackey, Director of UWA’s Centre for Ophthalmology and Visual Science, Managing Director of the Lions Eye Institute and Professor of Ophthalmology, will join a group of three other chief investigators on the $9.5 million Program led by Professor Jamie Craig, David’s first post-doctoral and now Professor of Ophthalmology at Flinders University, along with Associate Professor Stuart Macgregor (the Council of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research) and Associate Professor Alex Hewitt (University of Tasmania).
The nationwide coverage of the chief investigators will allow for greater patient recruitment, identifying relatives at the highest risk, and ensuring they have regular glaucoma eye checks. Cascade genetic screening promises to be a new form of eradicating undetected glaucoma and reduce blindness.
Over the course of the 5-year Program, the team and their collaborators will investigate the efficacy of genetic risk profiles to target the relatives of patients with glaucoma. This builds on the WA Department of Health, Glaucoma Australia and NHMRC partnership to examine first-degree relatives of glaucoma patients, who have a ten-fold higher risk of being affected by glaucoma compared to the general population.
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases where vision is lost due to damage of the optic nerve at the back of the eye. It is the second most common cause of blindness in Australia and by 2020 it will affect 80 million people worldwide. Over the next decade, the total cost of primary open angle glaucoma in Australia is expected to total $4.3 billion.
The glaucoma program was originally started by Professor Mackey in 1993 when he planned the Glaucoma Inheritance Study in Tasmania (GIST) as a way of identifying genes purported to cause adult-onset glaucoma. This resulted in the identification of the myocilin gene, responsible for 5% of primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG). Now, 25 years later, POAG is recognised as one of the most heritable complex genetic diseases. The GIST data is today stored in the Australian and New Zealand Registry of Advanced Glaucoma (ANZRAG).
Professor Mackey said, “This translation of 25 years of research is a great achievement. I’ve met so many people with glaucoma, who are worried about their children going blind. It is incredibly rewarding to now be delivering a new strategy of screening and preventing glaucoma blindness.”
Professor Jamie Craig accepted the national award on behalf of the team at the 2017 NHMRC Research Excellence Awards.
Ms Hilary Salisbury, Centre for Ophthalmology and Visual Science: +61 9381 0779