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NHMRC Grants for Flinders Eye Research

Professors Justine Smith and Jamie Craig are among recipients of more than AU$9 million awarded to Flinders University researchers for boundary-pushing projects investigating better treatments for mental health and wellbeing, vision loss and sleep disorders.

The funding under the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Investigator Grants recognises the potential of the researchers’ projects to improve millions of lives.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Colin Stirling congratulated Professors Justine Smith, Jamie Craig, Tracey Wade, and Dr Bastien Lechat, and their teams for their transformative work.

“At Flinders we are very proud of our outstanding researchers and their fearless pursuit of new knowledge that will help to provide more effective treatments and better outcomes for patients,” Professor Stirling said.

“Each of these researchers is making an outstanding contribution in their field that is being recognised by the NHMRC Investigator spotlight now shining on them.

“The high impact solutions they are developing to real-world health challenges will make a positive difference to people’s wellbeing and will help deliver stronger, healthier communities into the future.

“High impact research delivers outcomes that can change lives for the better. Congratulations to all of our grant winners.”

Professor Justine Smith

Addressing Unmet Needs in Uveitis

Professor Justine Smith, Strategic Professor in Eye & Vision Health, Matthew Flinders Distinguished Professor, College of Medicine and Public Health, was awarded a grant of ($2,953,040) for the project she leads, titled: Addressing the Greatest Unmet Needs in Uveitis.

Prof Smith explained that the inflammatory disease uveitis “affects working-age adults, can cause rapid vision loss in 70% of patients and it is the cause of up to 25% of blindness around the world today”.

“This project will develop, implement, and evaluate new therapeutic approaches including drug targets and AI (artificial intelligence), to reverse or prevent uveitis-related vision loss. The research is expected to deliver superior management options for clinicians, new training opportunities for the next generation of clinician-scientists, and higher quality of life outcomes for patients.”

Professor Jamie Craig

Polygenic Risk Testing in Glaucoma

Professor Jamie Craig, Matthew Flinders Distinguished Professor, College of Medicine and Public Health received a grant of $2,476,520 to pursue the project he leads titled, Expanding the indications for polygenic risk testing in glaucoma.

Prof Craig said glaucoma is one of the most heritable diseases, affecting 3% of people over 50 years worldwide today.

“Asymptomatic in its early stages, it is the leading cause of irreversible blindness if left untreated, with approximately half of those with it being undiagnosed. Our research will use a risk prediction model in depth genetic understanding to help advance new screening, leading to earlier intervention and improved treatment options available to clinicians, and a better outlook for patients. The research outcomes extend to widening critical knowledge in glaucoma genetics, so all high-risk individuals are diagnosed early in the disease and that means preventing the loss of vision.”

Funding for Eating and Sleep Disorders

Grants were also awarded to:
Professor Tracey Wade, Flinders Institute for Mental Health and Wellbeing Director and Matthew Flinders Fellow, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work for her project, Revolutionising early intervention outcomes for youth with emerging eating disorders ($2,953,040), and
Dr Bastien Lechat, Research Fellow, College of Medicine and Public Health, for Redefining sleep disordered breathing diagnostics and management: A novel data-driven digital health approach ($662,040).

Recognising Quality, Creativity and Impact

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Robert Saint says these large grants recognise the quality, creativity and impact of the projects put forward by the researchers and their teams.

“We are proud of the success of our researchers in achieving these grant awards in an extremely competitive field,” says Professor Saint. “This funding will enable them to pursue important new research directions at the cutting edge of their disciplines.

“They will deliver new insights and improved outcomes for people on a global scale. With these grants, our researchers will have means to help people with eating disorders, chronic respiratory sleeping disorders, and eye diseases that can lead to blindness.”

The Investigator Grant scheme is NHMRC’s largest funding program and is a major investment in Australia’s health and medical research workforce. The grants support projects conducted by high-performing researchers for five-year periods.