Queensland optometrist and academic, Professor Nathan Efron, has been awarded the nation’s foremost honour, a Companion of the Order of Australia.
Professor Efron, who contributes a monthly blog to mivision detailing his “journey of retinopexy, cryopexy, vitrectomy and IOL surgery” said he was “quite surprised… immensely proud… and genuinely humbled at receiving such a high level of award”.
The award was conferred on Professor Efron for “eminent service to medicine in the field of clinical optometry, particularly to vision correction and corneal physiology, as an academic, researcher and author, to the treatment of juvenile diabetes, and through executive roles with national and international professional organisations”.
The QUT research optometrist was pivotal to the development of the world’s first daily disposable contact lens, and pioneered development of a revolutionary eye test to assess the extent of nerve damage in people with diabetes, two achievements he said he was immensely proud of.
Professor Efron who lives with diabetes type 2, said 50 per cent of patients with diabetes had some degree of nerve damage. “If left unchecked this damage can lead to terrible pain in the arms and legs.” The test Professor Efron devised involves examining fine nerve fibres in the cornea, which is the front clear window of the eye, using a special high-powered laser-scanning confocal microscope. It is now replacing what was for many a traumatic skin biopsy from the foot. “It is quick, painless, and allows us to diagnose the condition, monitor progress and evaluate the effect of treatments,” he said.
Professor Efron recently secured funding from the US-based National Institutes of Health to assemble a consortium of multidisciplinary researchers from Australia, the UK, USA, Canada and Qatar with the aim of trialling his new eye test on more than 600 patients with diabetic neuropathy. “This research should firmly establish the diagnostic capabilities of this approach and in the long term lead to better treatment of patients with this debilitating condition,” he said.
The benefit of Professor Efron’s contact lens research is appreciated by millions on a daily basis. “When two Scottish entrepreneurs came to me with a design concept for a daily disposable lens because their prototype lenses were a failure, I helped redesign the lens and the rest is history. “When I think that the daily disposable contact lens industry is now worth AU$4 billion worldwide, I should have asked for shares in the company rather than a meagre academic consulting fee,” he joked.
Outstanding Research at QUT
QUT Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Coaldrake said Nathan Efron came to QUT a decade ago as a research capacity-building professor and his career has been distinguished by outstanding research that has led to many major international research awards and prizes. “Professor Efron has established world-class laboratories and led a high-performing team that has kept QUT at the forefront of global optometry research. We salute him.”
Professor Efron, who lives in Southport on the Gold Coast, is a prolific author, having published over 800 scientific articles and 16 books and has been invited to speak at more than 500 conferences in 42 countries throughout his career. The current president of the Australian College of Optometry and vice-president of the International Society for Contact Lens Research, he describes himself as a fiercely proud Australian. “When I speak at international conferences, I often intersperse my lectures with images of Australian landscapes, flora, fauna and famous celebrities,” he said. “I have always considered myself a scientific and cultural ambassador for Australia, and that’s what makes this award so poignant for me.”
Speaking to mivision having been awarded a Companion of the Order of Australia, Professor Efron said the award was not one he had anticipated. “You can never plan for, work towards, or expect, this form of national recognition. But when the news did come, it was awesome.” He said he experienced “a mixture of emotions … I was quite surprised at receiving such a high level of award. I am immensely proud. And I am genuinely humbled, as I have looked up the list of the other recipients of the AC award in this and previous rounds, and can see that I am now in pretty exalted company.”
Professor Efron said “quite, simply, the enjoyment of the work I do, and the wonderful people I work with” inspires him to continue in the profession of optometry.