As we start another year, we speak to professionals across the eye health industry to understand the challenges, opportunities, trends and priorities for the year ahead.

Professor Keith Martin, CERA Managing Director, Head of Glaucoma Research:

Gene therapy and its benefits for patients with previously untreatable eye diseases will continue to gather pace in 2022.

Professor Keith Martin, CERA Managing Director
Photo credit: Anna Carlile

The first Australians with the RPE-65 genetic mutation that causes Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis have now received the approved gene therapy Luxturna.

A clinical trial of an investigational gene therapy for dry age-related macular degeneration has now been tested on eight Victorian patients.

CERA’s pre-clinical research to develop new gene therapies is yielding promising results in the lab, with some treatments moving closer to clinical trial phase.

As a translational research institute, we are excited by the potential of gene therapy research and committed to giving Australians early access to pioneering new treatments via clinical trials.

While gene therapy research offers great potential in the treatment of many eye diseases, it is generating particular hope among Australians with inherited retinal diseases like retinitis pigmentosa and Stargardt’s disease.

Although these diseases are collectively rare, together they are the most common cause of blindness among working age Australians.

Less than a decade ago, anyone with an IRD was told there was nothing that could be done to prevent blindness, but now gene therapy research offers hope of saving sight.

One of the great challenges of trialling potential new gene therapies for inherited retinal diseases (IRDs) is finding patients with the right genetic code to take part in the treatment trial.

In 2022, our Retinal Gene Therapy Unit will continue to build on its collaboration with the University of Melbourne in a natural history study which aims to build a patient database of people with IRDs.

The project, which now involves 150 patients, will give us valuable information about the clinical progress of IRDs.

It will also play a critical role in matching patients with trials as potential new therapies emerge – and we hope it will encourage more trial sponsors to bring their studies to Australia to benefit patients.

In 2022, we are adding new areas to our research program including genetic engineering, clinical biomarkers, vascular neuroscience and ocular oncology to further broaden our understanding of the causes of eye disease and develop new ways of diagnosing and treating eye disease.

One of the real positives of clinical research is the impact it has across the health system as more clinicians are exposed to innovative new practices.

At CERA, our work is founded on the many partnerships we form with eye care professionals including optometrists. Just one example of this is the work of our macular researchers who are providing vital education on AMD to optometrists and giving them the opportunity to involve patients in new studies.

Research is all about collaboration – and in 2022 we look forward to deepening our partnerships and working closely with eye health professionals to make a real difference for patients.