Six years ago, Sydney Eye Hospital Foundation provided a seed grant of $480,000 that would help a university research team develop a bio‑engineered cornea.
The team, led by leading Sydney ophthalmologist Professor Gerard Sutton, has been so successful in their work that they have secured significant additional funding from the Federal Government.
On 6 February 2024, it was announced that a $35 million grant through the Medical Research Future Fund would be bestowed to the team to establish a manufacturing facility that can produce, store and ship bioengineered corneas across Australia and the world.
Professor Gerard Sutton
When making the announcement, Mark Butler MP and Minister for Health and Aged Care said that corneal disease is the third most common form of blindness, but for every 70 patients who need a transplant around the world, just one donor cornea is available.
“More than 2000 Australians every year require a corneal tissue transplant to restore their sight. This facility is a major step forward to ensuring there is help available for those who need it,” says Minister Butler.
News of the grant was described as “exciting and thrilling” by Sydney Eye Hospital Foundation Chief Executive Officer, Linda Fagan.
“The Sydney Eye Hospital Foundation has a strategic mandate to help close the gap on eye care for all Australians,” says Linda. “Corneal disease is the third most common cause of blindness among all age groups and the leading cause of unilateral blindness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
“Now, Australians and people worldwide who suffer from poor vison and blindness are one step closer to next generation technology, and the potential of artificial corneas being accessible for all,” she says.
“Our congratulations are extended to Professor Sutton, his team and all collaborators from The University of Sydney, the University of Wollongong, NSW Organ and Tissue Donation Service, The University of Melbourne, the Centre for Eye Research and Queensland University of Technology,” she says.
“Our donors can be proud of contributing almost half a million dollars to the project which has the potential to help millions of corneal patients worldwide and has now lead to this prestigious funding,” says Linda.
Professor Sutton says that corneal bioengineering is an exciting new technology, and that the building of a next-generation facility will ensure Australia is at the forefront of global development.
“As always nothing of any significance is ever achieved without teamwork,” says Professor Sutton.
“We have been fortunate to have had the support and encouragement from the Sydney Eye Hospital Foundation from the very start - without the Foundation our research would not be where it is today.”