Eye researchers awarded top Australian research fellowships

Two vision researchers from the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) have received top honours from the National Health and Medical Research Centre (NHMRC).

CERA Deputy Director Professor Robyn Guymer was awarded a prestigious NHMRC Elizabeth Blackburn Fellowship to support her research into Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), while Associate Professor Alex Hewitt has been recognised as the top-ranked NHMRC Practitioner Fellowship applicant.

The Elizabeth Blackburn Fellowships are awarded annually to the highest ranked female applicant in each of the biomedical, clinical and public health pillars of the NHMRC’s Research Fellowship scheme. Professor Guymer received the award for the Clinical Science and Medicine category.

Professor Robyn Guymer is a clinician-researcher focusing almost exclusively on AMD, the leading cause of vision loss and legal blindness in Australians over 50 years of age. Professor Guymer’s research over the past two decades has looked at all aspects of this disease, from better understanding the pathological causes and risk factors of AMD, to defining the clinical signs and severity of the disease in a living eye, to testing of novel treatments for every stage of the disease.

Professor Guymer said she was honoured to receive the Elizabeth Blackburn Fellowship, which is specifically designed to support female scientists at the top of their field.

“This fellowship will enable me to continue expanding the AMD research field by collaborating with basic scientists to address underlying mechanisms of the disease and then take our research findings into the clinic,” she said.

Associate Professor Alex Hewitt (CERA and the University of Tasmania) received a Research Excellence Award as the top ranked NHMRC Practitioner Fellowship applicant for his work on patient-specific stem cell lines and emerging gene-editing techniques.

Associate Professor Hewitt’s research aims to understand the precise molecular mechanisms leading to blinding disease and develop novel therapies for these diseases.

“The overarching goal is to ensure that through targeted, evidence-based intervention, the next generation of people genetically predisposed to blinding ocular diseases have a dramatically different natural history to their forebears,” he said.

NHMRC Practitioner Fellowships are designed to support research that results in the translation of evidence into improved clinical practice and health policy, delivering improvements in health and healthcare to Australians.

Story by Emily Woodhams.