Pioneering research gives hope on World Sight Day

Thursday, 08 October, 2020

Pioneering research gives hope on World Sight Day

This World Sight Day (8 October 2020), the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) is launching Hope in Sight Giving Day to raise awareness of pioneering research to prevent blindness and restore sight for eye diseases that have long been considered untreatable. The event will focus on the potential of gene therapy and raise funds for new therapies to be developed and trialled in Melbourne.

“Gene and cell therapy are two emerging technologies offering new hope to patients with diseases where no treatments have been available in the past,” CERA Managing Director Professor Keith Martin said.

“This includes people with inherited retinal diseases like retinitis pigmentosa or Stargardt’s disease, or those who have experienced irreversible vision loss due to optic nerve diseases like glaucoma.”

About 16,500 Australians have inherited retinal diseases, caused by genetic faults that lead to loss of retinal cells causing vision loss and blindness. These diseases are the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults and there are currently no treatments or cures. However, the emergence of gene and cell therapy is seeing new treatments being trialled internationally — and the chance of stopping vision loss and restoring sight is now a realistic possibility.

Sisters Kate and Nicole Barrett are the faces of our Hope in Sight Giving Day campaign. Kate (35) was first diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at six and now lives with a tiny amount of tunnel vision.

Nicole (33), an occupational therapist, was diagnosed at 17. Her vision is currently stable, and she lives from day to day hoping her vision will not deteriorate further.

“The new gene therapy research gives me hope that in my lifetime there will be a treatment for retinitis pigmentosa,” Kate said.

“It gives everybody hope to know that scientists are looking into all avenues for a cure. My wish is [that] my sight can stay where it is so I can see the milestones in my daughters’ lives.”

Research underway at CERA to tackle irreversible blindness includes:

  • Development of a gene therapy to tackle a rare form of retinitis pigmentosa.
  • Gene therapy to repair optic nerve damage that causes blindness in glaucoma.
  • Stem cell therapies to regenerate light-sensing cells in the eye to restore sight.
  • Tissue-engineered corneas for transplant.
  • A study to understand how inherited retinal diseases progress and identify people suitable for clinical trials.

Gene therapy researcher Dr Tom Edwards said it’s exciting to offer patients hope that there are treatments on the horizon.

“Gene therapy research offers the best prospect of finding cures for inherited eye diseases that cause blindness,” he said.

Every dollar donated to CERA’s research on World Sight Day will be tripled by matched donations from National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia and the CERA Foundation.

“We’re particularly excited by the potential for Dr Tom Edwards’ gene therapy approach to be applied to many different inherited eye diseases, not just one,” National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia Chairman Dr Graeme Blackman AO said.

“We encourage people to join us in making a donation to support the research of Tom and his colleagues.”

Donate at

Image caption: Nicole and Kate Barrett with guide dog Misty. Image ©Anna Carlile

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