Researchers at the Save Sight Institute, University of Sydney, NSW Organ and Tissue Donation Service and the University of Wollongong are revolutionising the treatment of corneal ulcers with the development of a new iFixPen. Led by Professor Gerard Sutton, the iFixPen is an innovative delivery system for a specially designed “ink” that can treat corneal ulcers by promoting wound healing.
Corneal ulcers are predominantly caused by bacterial infection, which causes an open wound on the front of the eye. These ulcers can become serious and cause vision loss or blindness and early treatment is essential (1). While contact lens wearers are more prone to corneal ulcers, ulcers can also occur as a result of a fungal or viral infection, or injury or trauma (1). Currently the most common form of treatment is topical antibiotic, applied to the affected area (1).
A similar device has been used to treat knee cartilage damage as a result of arthritis, the iFixPen is the first of its kind to be developed to treat injuries or diseases of the eye. The project may still be in the early stages of development, but it is already being recognised, with the team awarded nearly $50,000 in funding from the Sydney Innovation and Research Symposium’s “Big Idea” Award in June this year. “It has captured the imagination of many people…and is actually our second innovation award. We were runners-up in the Innovation Competition within the Local Area Health District as well,” said Professor Gerard Sutton. “It was great to get the award for the whole team…[as] this is very much a team achievement.”
The injection of seed funding ensures the future of the corneal iFixPen looks bright, with the first prototype available for use in 2019. The project also highlights the importance of strong collaboration and partnership, which brings research, technology and innovation to the forefront of ophthalmic practice in the region.
“The iFixPen project is one of the cornerstone projects of the Australian Corneal Bioengineering Centre which has been established on the Sydney Eye Hospital Campus.It was set up to foster the development of corneal bioengineered products to treat corneal disease and makes use of the unique synergies of having the Save Sight Institute, Sydney Eye Hospital, The Lions NSW Eye Bank and The Australian Ocular Biobank in the same location. We are also collaborating with Professor Gordon Wallace from Wollongong University’s Intelligent Polymer Institute,” said Professor Gerard Sutton.
Several Save Sight Institute academic staff have this week been teaching in Hanoi, Vietnam. As part of their Masters programme, students must undertake intensive practical training across Medical Retina, Glaucoma, Cornea and Paediatrics.
“The most valuable lesson that I’ve grasped from my great teachers…is how to think like a real consultant. [To] put yourself in the context of the emergency setting or daily clinic and ask yourself what you should do when your patients come in. Their lectures were not just given to provide me with the ophthalmic knowledge but also to guide me through each clinical scenario. I want to express my thankfulness to Professor McCluskey, Associate Professor John Grigg and Dr Con Petsoglou for your enthusiasm, dedication and kindness,” said student Hoàng Thanh Tùng.
The trip also provided an opportunity for our staff to meet with and tour the facilities at Hanoi Medical University, where many of our students work. Professor Peter McCluskey, Associate Professor John Grigg and Dr Con Petsoglou also met with the Director of the Vietnam National Institution of Ophthalmology (VNIO), Professor Nguyrn Xuan Hiep. The VNIO and Hanoi Medical University are this year celebrating 100 years of providing high quality ophthalmic care to the Vietnamese community and our partnership with these three institutions was celebrated over a cup of Vietnamese green tea.
“Today we had the honour of meeting Professor Hiep from the NVIO, which treats 500,000 patients per year and performs over 50,000 eye operations in Hanoi. They also provide a mobile operating unit that visits rural areas to provide outreach services. Professor Hiep was very supportive of our teaching programme and welcomes future visits and educational opportunities between our institutions,” said Dr Con Petsoglou of the meeting.
The group also welcomed the new cohort of Vietnamese scholars due to commence their Masters in International Ophthalmology later this year over some of the finest Vietnamese cuisine Hanoi has to offer.
Despite the unseasonal downpour as remnants of Cyclone Debbie headed down south, Save Sight Institute was well represented at this year’s Sydney Medical School Faculty Dinner, with 20 staff invited to attend. The dinner provided a unique opportunity to recognise the excellence of staff within the Faculty and several SSI staff were recognised for their outstanding achievement in ophthalmology.
Clinical Professor Frank Martin was recognised in the International Awards category, acknowledging his receipt of the Linksz Award from the International Strabismological Association. Professors Gerard Sutton and Stephanie Watson were both acknowledged in the National Awards category; Gerard gave the RANZCO Council Lecture in 2016 and Stephanie was elected Chair of the Ophthalmic Research Institute of Australia – the first female Chair.
Professor Brendan Murphy, the Chief Medical Officer of Australia, was the invited guest speaker and gave an empowered speech on health economics and the role of medical professionals in ensuring the financial sustainability of the medical system in Australia.
“The Sydney Medical School (SMS) Faculty Dinner is an annual event that acknowledges the many extraordinary and powerful contributions made by members of SMS to research, teaching and service to the community. It is a time to recognise and celebrate the many, varied contributions that the academic and professional staff of SMS make to the University, the health system and Australia” said SSI Director, Professor Peter McCluskey.
On Wednesday 5 April, SSI was pleased to welcome the team of hard-working volunteers from the Lugarno Lions Club to tour the Institute. With a long history of supporting local organisations, the Lugarno Club are this year recognising local contributors to ophthalmology and vision health. Long standing Lions member, Mr Jean-Claude Legrand, current Treasurer and Secretary of the Sydney Eye Lions Club, nominated our very own Associate Professor John Grigg and Professor Stephanie Watson to be recognised for their outstanding commitment and contribution to ophthalmology and vision research. The tour provided the Lugarno Lions Club with an opportunity to see firsthand our excellence in eye research and acknowledge the contributions of Professors Grigg and Watson.
The tour began in the busy Save Sight Institute Clinic, including a free eye check for one Lions volunteer with the new OPTOS machine (clean bill of health!). The tour continued to the aptly named NSW-ACT Save Sight Health Care/Foundation Save Sight Institute Lab to view the work of researchers in the area of retinal development. The Lions were treated to the sweeping views of Macquarie Street, with one volunteer regaling his tales of watching the military parades in his youth.
The tour continued to the Billson Lab with a comprehensive overview of the research by Professor Paul Martin, complete with some awe-inspiring images of the human retina.
The afternoon was capped off with Associate Professor John Grigg and Professor Stephanie Watson being formally invited to the Lugarno Club’s annual dinner on the 11 May to acknowledge their contribution to the community.
The Save Sight Institute is involved in a new outreach service which recently won a Top End Health Service Quality Award for ‘Improving Elective Surgery Access’.
The QBE Foundation has donated $10,000 to support a unique initiative by Sydney’s Save Sight Institute to assist children and teenagers with low vision or blindness. The “Making Connections” information day was attended by approximately 200 people, including teenagers with vision loss, their parents and teachers. Parents and carer’s of babies and young children with eye disease were also invited to attend.
The Save Sight Institute has released findings from a commissioned report into the socioeconomic impact of low vision and blindness from paediatric eye disease in Australia, highlighting the significant challenges faced by individuals and families affected by childhood blindness, and subsequent economic impacts more broadly