The federal government on 24 November announced a $9.46 million grant to Flinders University’s College of Medicine and Public Health for genetics research aimed at preventing glaucoma blindness, through personalised treatments.

The Minister for Aged Care, Mr Ken Wyatt, said the grant would help tackle the world’s leading cause of irreversible blindness.

Personalised treatment through genetics

“The potential to personalised treatment through genetics is exciting because glaucoma already affects approximately 300,000 Australians, with up to 80 million predicted to suffer from the disease worldwide by 2020,” Mr Wyatt said.

“It’s long been known that a family history of glaucoma means increased risk but there are no symptoms or warning signs in the early stages.

Glaucoma can be controlled

“Testing is vital and, although there is no cure, with treatment glaucoma can be controlled and further loss of sight either prevented or slowed.”

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases in which the optic nerve is slowly destroyed. In most people this damage is due to an increased pressure inside the eye as a result of a build-up of fluid.

Sight loss is usually gradual and a considerable amount of peripheral vision may be gone before people are aware of any problem.

The research grant will support the work of Flinders University Professor Jamie Craig along with three other key researchers: Professor David Mackey (University of Western Australia), Associate Professor Stuart Macgregor (The Council of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research) and Associate Professor Alex Hewitt (University of Tasmania).

Economic cost in Australia estimated to be $144 million

The annual economic cost of glaucoma in Australia has been estimated at more than $144 million.

“Research based on knowledge of the genes that lead to glaucoma blindness will have important real-world impacts in reducing the worldwide suffering caused by this common condition,” Mr Wyatt said.

“Flinders has a long tradition of research and clinical practice of the highest standing, and this five-year grant will support work to make a positive difference by preventing blindness in patients across Australia and overseas.”

Funding for the grant has been provided through the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Since 2007, the NHMRC has provided $29.8 million to glaucoma research.